Page last updated at 23:09 GMT, Monday, 8 March 2010

Cameron rejects criticism of Ashcroft tax approach

David Cameron rejects claims that he has been too weak in his dealing with Lord Ashcroft

David Cameron has rejected claims that he has mishandled the Lord Ashcroft tax row, saying he had clearly acted to settle the matter before the election.

He told the BBC he did not "accept" criticism he was weak over the issue for fear of offending the Tory peer.

Lord Ashcroft, a major party donor and deputy chairman, said last week he had not paid full UK tax on foreign income.

The Tories said he would stand down from his party role after the election. Labour say he should be sacked now.

Asked whether Lord Ashcroft would have a role to play in a future Conservative government, should it win power, Mr Cameron said he believed the peer's interests lay primarily in "building up the Conservative party".

It was thought that Lord Ashcroft had agreed in 2000 to pay full UK tax when he became a peer but it emerged recently that he had agreed to be a "long term resident", a lesser commitment which meant he was not liable for tax on any overseas earnings not brought back to the UK.

He has agreed, in future, to be domiciled in the UK for tax purposes in line with proposed new laws requiring anyone in Parliament to be so.

Mr Cameron said he had learned last month about Lord Ashcroft's tax status, leading Labour to say he had ducked the issue since becoming leader in 2005 and that it had "cast doubt" on his judgement.

'Answers'

In an interview with the BBC's Political Editor Nick Robinson, Mr Cameron claimed credit for the fact that Lord Ashcroft had answered questions about his "non-dom" tax status and the undertakings given in 2000.

"What people have seen from me over the past week is answers to the questions that need answering," he said.

I've paid off loans, including a very large loan to Michael Ashcroft so the party is not in his debt one piece
David Cameron

"Where does this man pay tax, what undertakings did he give and are his donations entirely legal? The fact is some time before the election has answered the questions.

"It has been done. And it was done by me - right?

On Thursday, the Electoral Commission cleared donations by a firm owned by Lord Ashcroft to the Tories, ruling that they were legal.

The Tories have sought to play down Lord Ashcroft's recent financial influence on the party, saying he contributed only 1% of its total funds over the past year.

Mr Cameron said he had transformed the party's financial position since taking over as leader.

"I have sorted out the funding of the Conservative Party. I have made it a lot less reliant on a few wealthy people. I've broadened its base. I've paid off loans, including a very large loan to Michael Ashcroft, so the party is not in his debt one piece."

Future role

Asked about Lord Ashcroft's future role with the party, Mr Cameron declined to say whether he would be given a job in a future government.

But he stressed: "Michael Ashcroft has taken part in building up the Conservative Party - that's where his interests, I think, have lain."

A statement from the Tories said Lord Ashcroft would be leaving his role as deputy chairman after the election "to concentrate on his media and business interests".

Labour says Lord Ashcroft is helping to bankroll the Tories' campaign in marginal seats.

It argues that Lord Ashcroft is different from other wealthy non-dom donors - including prominent Labour supporters - because of the question marks over his position prior to his entering the House of Lords and the assurances he had given over his tax affairs at the time.



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SEE ALSO
Ashcroft cleared in donor probe
04 Mar 10 |  UK Politics
Lords rebuff Ashcroft probe call
03 Mar 10 |  UK Politics
Peer's tax status new to Cameron
04 Mar 10 |  UK Politics

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