Rishi Sunak, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, is being investigated by Parliament’s standards watchdog for a possible failure to declare an interest. The inquiry is related to a childcare firm owned by his wife, Akshata Murty. The Commissioner for Standards will decide whether Sunak has broken the rules after an inquiry.
In response, a Downing Street spokesperson said that they are willing to assist the Commissioner in clarifying how this has been declared as a ministerial interest. The investigation is being conducted under paragraph 6 of the Code of Conduct for MPs, which states that members must always be open and frank in declaring any relevant interests.
The controversy began when Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced a pilot of payments for new childminders in the spring Budget, with more for those who sign up through agencies. It was revealed that Murty was listed as a shareholder in one of those agencies, Koru Kids, as recently as 6 March. When questioned by MPs at a parliamentary committee hearing on 28 March, Sunak failed to mention his wife’s links to Koru Kids and said that he had no interests to declare.
A few days later, Sunak sent a letter to the committee stating that his wife’s interest was declared to the Cabinet Office and that an updated statement of ministers’ interests would be due out shortly. He also mentioned that the list of ministerial interests is separate to the register of interests for MPs and ensures steps are taken to avoid or mitigate any potential conflict of interest.
Labour MP Catherine McKinnell and Deputy Leader Angela Rayner have both raised concerns about the lack of transparency in the government. Rayner said that the failure to update the rules or publish the register of ministers’ interests had “left a transparency black hole which is enabling the prime minister and those he has appointed to dodge proper scrutiny of their affairs”. The Liberal Democrats have also commented on the investigation, saying it is another example of a Conservative prime minister allegedly “bending the rules”.
If found guilty of breaching the code, Sunak could face sanctions ranging from being ordered to apologise to a suspension from Parliament. The rules around lobbying in Parliament were tightened up in February following the controversy over paid advocacy work undertaken by former MP Owen Paterson. The public will be able to see for themselves if Sunak has nothing to hide when the register is published before May’s elections.