UK Finance Minister Rishi Sunak is at the centre of a political storm. Sunak attended a party at 10 Downing Street (the Prime Minister's official residence) during the deepest lockdown. The birthday party for the PM was in breach of the government's own rules. The British Police investigated and fined both Sunak and Prime Minister Boris Johnson on April 12.
In January 2022 the investigation commenced. Johnson vowed that if he were fined, he would resign as PM. He has now reneged on the pledge he gave to the British Parliament.
People were fined for lesser breaches of law. Grandparents could not visit their grandchildren for months due to lockdown. People could not touch their dying relatives. Funerals could be attended by 6 people max. It is galling that as people suffered so much privation, Downing Street staff had a party in flagrant defiance of the laws they drafted themselves.
Sunak has apologised for breaking lockdown law and paid the fine. The police are entitled to fine people up to GBP 10,000 for lockdown breaches. The police have not disclosed the scale of the fine. Even the maximum fine would be peanuts to Sunak who is a self-made multimillionaire in Pounds Sterling. Moreover, his wife Akshata Murty is the daughter of Narayana Murthy the Indian IT giant Infosys founder and USD billionaire. Ms Murty owns GBP 700 million worth of shares in her father's company.
Sunak was also under fire when it came to light last week that his goodwife has non-domiciled status for tax purposes in the UK. People resident in the UK can pay GBP 30,000 for non-domiciled (non-dom) tax status. GBP 30,000 is chump change to Ms Murty. There is no doubt that her non-dom status was lawful. However, many say it was unethical. She and her husband have been lambasted by the UK Labour Party, which is the main opposition party. Mr Sunak told the British media to back off. He said he is fair game, but his wife is not a politician. Of course, his wife's finances have an impact on Sunak's own financial position.
Akshata Murty protested that she is an Indian citizen. That is true, but that does not impinge on non-dom status. Most Indian citizens dwelling in the UK do NOT have non-dom status. Moreover, even Britons resident in the UK can sometimes acquire it. Her nationality is neither here nor there.
Sunak was born in the United Kingdom to Indian parents. This son of a doctor attended Winchester College-one of the most academic and illustrious schools in the Commonwealth. Rishi was appointed head boy before going to Oxford University to read Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE). PPE is the subject read by so many British statesmen. After Oxford, he found gainful employment at Deutsche Bank. After two years, he took a career break to take an MBA at Stanford University, California. There he met his future wife Akshata.
It came to light that the Sunaks still possessed green cards in 2021. The UK press said this was indicative of a lack of commitment to the United Kingdom. The golden couple were giving themselves the option to shift to the United States. There is nothing illegal about that. However, it counted against Rishi Sunak politically. He and his wife have since renounced their green cards.
Sunak, 41, is the MP for Richmond in Yorkshire. This constituency is in rural northern England. It is 99% white. The Sunak family is one of the only British Indian households in the 100,000 strong constituencies. Mr Sunak and his spouse purchased a stately home formerly pertaining to an aristocrat in Richmond. He has been branded the Maharajah of Yorkshire by his critics. The impression of him being as rich as Croesushas gone down very badly as he raised taxes.
From 2020 until this year, Sunak was hailed as the saviour of Britain with his furlough pay through lockdowns. He was splashing the cash. Now it all has to be paid for. The financial pain is turning him from the most adulated to the most reviled members of the 27 member British Cabinet.
Chancellor of the Exchequer is Sunak's official title. That is called Finance Minister in every other jurisdiction. Chancellor (for short) is one of the three great offices of state below the PM. The other two are Foreign Secretary and Home Secretary. Unusually, Johnson has chosen to appoint a Deputy Prime Minister.
People have been muttering for two years that 58-year-old Johnson will soon be obliged to tender his resignation to Her Majesty the Queen, as Johnson has committed numerous massive blunders and been caught lying under oath in Parliament on multiple occasions. Boris Johnson (BoJo) has a pachydermous hide, and it is utterly shameless. He has brassed it out.
Mr Sunak is embattled. The likelihood is that he will survive for at least a few months. He has been at the helm of the Treasury (Finance Ministry) for 3 years already. Chancellors of the Exchequer seldom last much longer. Even if he writes a letter of resignation to Her Britannic Majesty, it is unlikely that we have seen the back of him. He shall be back in British Politics.
There are elections to local councils (panchayats) on 5 May. It is probable that the ruling Conservative Party will take a caning from the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats. This is to be expected after 12 years in office and halfway through a parliamentary turn. But if it is a rout rather than a defeat, the pressure for BoJo and Sunak to go will intensify.
In many ways, Sunak has what it takes to be PM. He is young but not too young, telegenic, teetotal, a safe pair of hands, ethnic minority, aspirational and until recently untainted by scandal. He may yet ride out the storm. BoJo has often surived much worse.
George Callaghan is a political analyst based in the UK. Check out his Vlog "George from Ireland"