INDEPENDENT 2024-03-28 16:08:58


Angela Rayner throws down gauntlet to Tory critics over her tax affairs

Angela Rayner has refused to publish her private tax details to head off claims she may have avoided capital gains tax on the 2015 sale of her council house.

The Labour deputy leader taunted her Tory critics, stressing that she has “done nothing wrong”, and saying: “If you show me yours, I will show you mine.”

Naming Rishi Sunak, Jeremy Hunt and Tory deputy chairman James Daly, Ms Rayner said: “If [they] all want to say ‘I’ll give you the last 15 years of my tax details’, I’m happy to disclose all of mine as well at the same time.

Her challenge came after Greater Manchester Police said it would review claims she may have broken electoral law over information she gave about her living situation a decade ago.

Bury North MP Mr Daly has alleged she may have made a false declaration about where she was living on the electoral register.

He says has been told a detective chief inspector is reassessing the force’s decision not to open an investigation into the claims.

Grilled about the development on Thursday, Ms Rayner said the police had been put under pressure by Mr Daly to launch an investigation and she was “confident I have done absolutely nothing wrong”.

“I have been very clear about the advice I have received,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “I don’t need to publish all of my details, my child’s birth certificate was put out in the public domain and it is not fair on my family.”

Ms Rayner promised to comply with HMRC, the police and any authorities who want to see her tax advice and, in a challenge to Mr Daly and the Conservatives, she added: “If you show me yours, I’ll show you mine.

“If the deputy chairman, Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt all want to say I’ll give you the last 15 years of my tax details, I’m happy to disclose all of mine as well at the same time.

“I’m open to that if that’s what they want us to do.”

Sir Keir Starmer has said Ms Rayner has his “full support and full confidence, today and every day”, adding that she has “answered I don’t know how many questions about this… she has not broken any rules”.

The Labour leader told Sky News he has “faith in Angela Rayner’s answers”, and said his team, but not him personally, have looked at the tax advice Ms Rayner received about the council house. He said it is “a sign of how desperate the Tories have got, that they want to make this the issue in a local election, which should be about their failure in delivery”.

The latest scrutiny came as Ms Rayner and Sir Keir launched the party’s campaign for the 2 May local elections. Parking Labour’s tanks squarely on the Conservatives’ lawn, Sir Keir promised to revive Boris Johnson’s failed levelling up agenda. Heaping praise on the ex-PM for having the right idea with levelling up, he sought to drive a wedge between Mr Johnson and his successor, accusing Mr Sunak of “strangling levelling up at birth”.

Sir Keir accused Mr Johnson and his successors of having “preyed on people’s hopes” with unfulfilled promises over levelling up.

He said: “People say to me, the worst thing you can do in politics is to prey on peoples’ fear.

“Yet in some ways, preying on their hopes is just as bad. And that’s what the Tories did with levelling-up. Of course, it struck a chord. Of course – a town like Dudley wanted that hope to be real. Not just the promise of a better future – we all need that.

“It’s also how that project knowingly spoke to what towns like this have lost, the way of life that disappeared when the factories or pits closed. The community, the security, the ‘chest-out’ pride that grows when you are certain your contribution is respected.”

In an appeal to disgruntled Tory 2019 voters, Ms Rayner also heaped praise on Boris Johnson’s levelling up agenda, saying the former PM was “onto something”.

She added: “The problem is that the Tories then decided not to do that, hollowed out and took money under the guise of austerity from those areas and then created this Dragon’s Den bidding process where councils spent millions of pounds bidding against each other for little pots of their own money back.”

Ms Rayner has faced scrutiny about whether she paid the right amount of tax on the 2015 sale of her council house due to confusion over whether it was her principal residency.

She has rejected suggestions in a book by former Tory deputy chairman Lord Ashcroft that she failed to properly declare her main home.

The unauthorised biography alleges that the MP for Ashton-under-Lyne bought her former council house, in Vicarage Road in Stockport, Greater Manchester, with a 25% discount in 2007 under the right-to-buy scheme.

The former carer is said to have made a £48,500 profit when selling the house eight years later.

Government guidance says that a tenant can apply to buy their council home through the right-to-buy scheme if it is their “only or main home”.

Her husband was listed at another address in Lowndes Lane, about a mile away, which had also been bought under the right-to-buy scheme.

In the same year as her wedding, Ms Rayner is said to have re-registered the births of her two youngest children, giving her address as where her husband resided.

Ms Rayner has insisted that Vicarage Road was her “principal property” despite her husband living elsewhere at the time but neighbours have reportedly disputed her claim that she lived apart from her husband.

Tax experts have estimated that, while Ms Rayner may not have owed anything in capital gains tax following the sale depending on her residency situation, there are circumstances in which she could have owed as much as £3,500 to the taxman.

Harry urged by Meghan to reunite with William as Charles gives Easter address

Meghan Markle has reportedly urged Prince Harry to reconnect with his brother as the royal family continues to come to terms with its health struggles.

Royal author Tom Quinn said that the Duke of Sussex still has “vague hopes” that he will be forgiven by his estranged family and be offered a “minor role” – four years after he and Meghan stepped down.

The claims come amid a series of health scares among the family which has seen the King and the Princess of Wales step back from public duties.

Charles today admitted “great sadness” at missing the historic Royal Maundy service at Worcester Cathedral as he continues to undergo cancer treatment.

In the recorded message delivered to a traditional pre-Easter church service, he stressed the importance of friendship and acts of caring for each other.

The call to kindness and acts of service came after his daughter-in-law Kate released an emotional video message last Friday revealing she has started a course of preventative chemotherapy.

Camilla, who represented her husband at the service, was inundated with messages of support and love as the royal family battles through difficult times.

Barred from Europe: 2.4m Brits caught in Brexit passport chaos

Millions of Britons are barred from entering the EU by post-Brexit passport rules that are set to cause chaos over the Easter holidays.

With the getaway starting in earnest on Thursday, an estimated 2.4 million travellers have documents that can’t be used for trips to the EU because of the change in expiry requirements.

Since Brexit, British passports must have an issue date less than 10 years old on the day of departure to the EU, and must have at least three months left before their expiry date on the intended day of return. But millions of passports issued prior to September 2018 have longer validity periods.

Analysis by The Independent suggests 200 people every day are falling foul of this rule at UK airports, with thousands expected to see their holidays ruined over the upcoming break.

The rule change follows Britain’s Brexit deal with the EU, which puts the UK into the “third country nationals” category – alongside Venezuela and Samoa – with different expiry rules than when it was a member state. It means Britons are being turned away at airports, ferries and trains bound for Europe even if they have previously travelled to the EU on the same document.

The 17-day Easter break is a particularly busy time for British travellers and an estimated 6.4 million trips will be made from the UK to Europe – 1.6 million over the bank holiday weekend alone.

Longer validity on older passports was a useful way to avoid wasting part of the life of a passport, since holders could renew up to nine months early without losing any time. But after the rules changed, many have been confused into believing they have more time on their current passports to enter the EU than they actually do.

For example, anyone with a passport issued before 28 March 2014 will be prevented from going to Europe today, even if they have many months remaining before expiry. This confusing rule will potentially affect everyone whose passport was issued before September 2018: an estimated 32 million people.

One traveller, Ruth Wade, was about to board a flight recently from Manchester airport to Zurich via Brussels for her son’s wedding. But she was turned away because her passport had gone over the 10-year limit.

“I had already checked in for the flight 24 hours previously,” she told The Independent. “I handed over our passports at the desk. The woman from Brussels Airlines just looked at me and said, ‘You can’t travel on this passport, it’s expired.’

“My reply was: ‘No it hasn’t, it doesn’t expire until October 2024.’ She then went on to say, the expiry date doesn’t matter, it’s 10 years from the issue date.”

The passport had passed the 10-year mark by a matter of days.

“ I was distraught,” Ms Wade said. “She looked at my husband and said, ‘You can go but she can’t.’

“She didn’t offer any advice other than saying it had been all over the news. I don’t listen to or watch the news and I wouldn’t be taking any interest in a passport issue as my passport had seven months validity left on it.”

Ms Wade was able to book a slot for a fast-track appointment at HM Passport Office in Liverpool, requiring a hotel stay and new tickets.

“We need to get Zurich to see our son who is getting married. We have had to rebook flights, lost money on the initial flights. Upset and frustrated doesn’t even come close.”

Official data shows that 706,000 passports were issued by HM Passport Office in March 2014. According to an Independent estimate, about 500,000 are adult passports and 80 per cent of those will be renewals which could have had the extra months added to them.

With a life of about 10 years and six months for these 400,000 passports, and thus a six-month window for breaching the rule, around 2.4 million passports could be affected.

Airports including Edinburgh, Newcastle and Bristol are already predicting their busiest-ever Easter, with 2 million people expected to fly from British airports between Good Friday and Easter Monday, most of them to the EU and wider Schengen area.

Geneva routes will be extremely busy with winter sports fans, while Malaga, Alicante, Faro and Tenerife are the leading spring sunshine holiday destinations.

Among city breaks, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Paris and Rome are the most popular. Dubai, Orlando and New York are the key longer-haul destinations.

Proportionately there are significantly more family European trips over Easter: Turkey’s main season has yet to get going, and Egypt is not especially popular for short holidays due to the long flight time.

Airlines insist it is the passenger’s responsibility to ensure they comply with the immigration rules of their destination. Travel insurers will not pay out for losses related to passport validity issues.

A government spokesperson said: “It is quick and easy to renew your passport online or at a Post Office.

“We advise all customers not to book travel without a passport that meets their travel needs.”

Manchester beer festival compared to disastrous Willy Wonka experience

A beer festival in Manchester was compared to Glasgow’s disastrous Willy Wonka experience after customers turned up to a “half empty” venue with “rude” staff.

The first International Brewing and Cider (IBC) Festival, which was a two-day ticketed event with prices of up to £40, was held at the Depot Mayfield Manchester last weekend. But its organisers were soon forced to apologise after customers slammed the experience, criticising the quality of the drinks on offer and the costs.

One festival-goer said on X: “The most disappointing beer event ever. I had three beers which all tasted like a plastic cup. One went in the sink, one a mate finished for me and the third went in the urinal.

“Left before we had been there for two hours. The Wonka of beer festivals. I paid £43 to get in. I’ll get over the financial cost but distrust such events in future.”

Did you attend the event? If so email alexander.butler@independent.co.uk

The IBC replied: “We are very sorry that you had a less than perfect experience at the International Brewing & Cider Awards Festival. This was our first festival and everything was not perfect.

“We are a not-for-profit trade organisation representing the value chain supplying the brewing and beverage industry and organiser of the oldest international brewing and cider awards in the world.

“As a first time Festival we underwent a steep learning curve & believe we adapted to deliver a better model as the event progressed.

“Certainly, should we organise a Festival to follow the 2026 Awards all of our learnings and your feedback will be taken into account.”

Customer Matt Turner-Allen told BBC News he paid £38.50 for a ticket that came with six tokens – but only for half pints of selected drinks.

He said: “I texted my boss in Glasgow, and I said this is the Willy Wonka festival of Manchester. I have young kids and I have to be selective with my nights out, so it was a big disappointment.”

It comes after the organisers of a disastrous Willy Wonka-style experience in Glasgow were forced to apologise after families said they were still waiting for refunds.

House of Illuminati, which charged up to £35 for tickets, promised families an “immersive experience” but instead they arrived to find a sparse warehouse filled with strange AI-generated characters including made-up villain ‘The Unknown’, who left children in tears.

One parent complained of arriving to find a “disorganised mini-maze of randomly placed oversized props, a lacklustre candy station that dispersed one jelly bean per child, and a terrifying chrome-masked character that scared many of the kids to tears”.

Laurence Fox barred from London mayor race after forms error

Actor Laurence Fox will not be a candidate at the London mayoral elections after failing to fill in the nomination forms properly.

London Elects, which administers the mayoral and London Assembly elections, said the Reclaim Party leader had submitted his nomination papers shortly before the deadline on Wednesday, but they were subsequently found to contain errors that it was then too late to correct.

In now-deleted tweets, Mr Fox said his party had “checked, double checked and then triple checked our nominations” and would appeal against the decision, which he claimed was the result of “political corruption”.

But in an email also tweeted by the actor, election officials said nomination papers from two boroughs did not have the 10 supporters required, while three supporters from other boroughs “could not be reconciled to voter register records”.

The email said Mr Fox’s nomination as a London-wide assembly member candidate was valid, and added his party would be refunded the £20,000 fee and deposit paid for the mayoral nomination, plus another £5,000 Reclaim had overpaid “in error”.

In a statement, London Elects said: “The Reclaim Party candidate’s representatives met with London Elects for the first time on March 26, less than 24 hours before the close of the nominations deadline.

“At that time, the paperwork was incomplete.

“Mr Fox’s representatives were advised to ensure that completed forms were submitted well before the Wednesday 4pm statutory deadline.

“The paperwork was submitted very shortly before 4pm.

“Upon inspection, the nomination forms contained errors which – the deadline having passed – were too late for Mr Fox’s team to correct.

“The conclusion of London Elects was that the requirements of the nomination process were not completed by the deadline.

“The Greater London returning officer is bound by electoral law and has no ability to allow anything other than fully compliant nominations, submitted by the deadline, to stand.”

It is understood that there is no avenue for appealing against the decision that Mr Fox was not correctly nominated.

At the last London mayoral election in 2021, Mr Fox received just 47,634 votes – less than 2 per cent of the total cast – and lost his £10,000 deposit, which is only returned to candidates receiving more than 5 per cent of the vote.

The full list of candidates for the mayoral election is expected to be published on Thursday afternoon.

The two main candidates are expected to be Labour incumbent Sadiq Khan and the Conservative Susan Hall.

In an interview with Prospect magazine on Wednesday, Ms Hall dismissed allegations that she had reposted Islamophobic tweets as complaints about “hurty words”.

She said: “I’ll tell you what’s jarring. Jarring is the fact that poor people are having to pay £12.50 a day (the charge for London’s ultra-low emissions zone) that they literally cannot afford. That is real. And that isn’t just hurty words.”

Time to fix the ‘national sickness service’ once and for all

Satisfaction with the NHS has sunk to its lowest level since the British Social Attitudes survey began measuring it in 1983. Only one in four people (24 per cent) are satisfied – a 29-point drop in the past three years – and 52 per cent dissatisfied.

The findings, analysed by the King’s Fund and Nuffield Trust think tanks, are no surprise after the pandemic, a wave of strikes that have dragged on for far too long, and a series of NHS scandals. Understandably, the public’s main concern is about waiting times; they are much happier about the treatment they (eventually) receive.

Despite the criticism, people still have faith in what the former Conservative chancellor Nigel Lawson called “the closest thing the English have to a religion”. One survey participant put it well: people “love our NHS,” as the stickers and badges say, but “it’s a bit of a toxic relationship”. They do not want a different system but want their NHS to work better. It should not be too much to ask for.

Why is Johnny Mercer facing jail over the special forces inquiry?

Johnny Mercer, the veterans minister, has been given until 5 April to reveal the names of special forces officers who told him about war crimes in Afghanistan – and he faces being fined or up to a year in jail if he refuses.

He is understood to have promised whistleblowing troops that he would protect their identity if they came forward with what they knew about the unlawful killings by British troops of unarmed Afghans, information that he has passed to the public inquiry into allegations of such crimes.

However, Lord Justice Haddon-Cave, the former judge who is chairing the inquiry, has accused Mercer of a “misguided understanding of the term integrity and an inappropriate sense of loyalty”, and has served the minister with a notice under the Inquiries Act 2005 requiring him to supply the names to the inquiry in confidence.