Sir Keir Starmer grilled the UK’s “hopelessly weak” Prime Minister at the despatch box today, accusing Rishi Sunak of failing to “even deal with tax avoiders in his own cabinet.”

He was, of course, referring to the tax affairs of Tory party chairman Nadhim Zahawi, in light of revelations that Zahawi paid a multi-million pound tax settlement, including a penalty, when he was chancellor last year. 

Most people realise, continued the Labour leader, “that someone seeking to avoid tax cannot also be in charge of tax.”

Next came Starmer’s most memorable jibe: Sunak’s failure to sack Zahawi is evidence that the job of PM might just be “too big” for him.  

The PM defended his decision not to sack Zahawi before investigating the case properly, reminding Starmer that an investigation is under way to see if he had broken the ministerial code. (Zahawi is still insisting he acted properly).

But Starmer was keen to make this line of attack about more than just the Tory party chairman. It soon turned personal: “We all know why the Prime Minister was reluctant to ask his party chair questions about family finances and tax avoidance.”

The SNP Westminster leader, Stephen Flynn, jumped at the chance to pick up on the same theme: should people seeking to avoid tax simply “apply for non-dom tax status?” he asked mockingly. 

Both are alluding to the scrutiny Sunak faced last year in light of revelations that his multimillionaire wife, Akshata Murty, had claimed non-dom tax status to avoid UK tax on overseas income, allowing her to save millions of pounds in tax on dividends collected from her family’s IT business empire.

Sunak promised “integrity” as he stood on the steps of Downing Street after becoming leader last year. Yet it seems the complaint repeatedly levelled at Boris Johnson’s administration – “it’s one rule for them, another for everyone else” – runs the risk of becoming a recurrent theme during his time in office too. 

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