The Labour leader, Ed Miliband, is to repeat his accusations about the tax affairs of Tory donor Lord Fink, after a challenge from the peer to do so and face being sued.
Miliband originally made the remarks at prime minister’s questions on Wednesday, where he was covered by parliamentary privilege as a defence against any defamation action.
Attacking David Cameron, he highlighted a list of political donors who he said were named in the HSBC files as having accounts at the Swiss arm of the bank, including the former Tory party treasurer Lord Fink, who has donated £3m to the party.
He also suggested the prime minister was associating with “dodgy” donors and, separately, referred to what he described as Fink’s “tax avoidance” activities.
Miliband said in the Commons:
Let us talk about the difference between the Prime Minister and me. None of those people has given a penny on my watch, and he is up to his neck in this. Let us take Stanley Fink, who gave £3m to the Conservative party. The prime minister actually appointed him as treasurer of the party and gave him a peerage for good measure. Will he now explain what steps he is going to take about the tax avoidance activities of Lord Fink?
In a different exchange, without referring to anyone directly by name, he said:
The prime minister cannot get away from it: he is a dodgy prime Minister surrounded by dodgy donors.
A furious Fink then wrote to Miliband demanding that he apologise – or repeat his claims outside parliament, where his remarks would not carry parliamentary privilege and could theoretically open the Labour leader to a libel action. Fink said Miliband had been caught playing the man and not the ball.
However, it is understood the Labour leader will say more on the subject later on Thursday.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Tristram Hunt, the shadow education secretary, confirmed Miliband “will not be apologising, he will be making a statement this afternoon”.
Hunt added: “Ed Miliband will be repeating his assertion today that there is a pattern of behaviour that looks like tax avoidance. It could well be described as dodgy.
“We’re pretty confident about the pattern of behaviour by Lord Fink. Ed Miliband stood up to the banks, he stood up to Rupert Murdoch, he stood up to the energy companies and he’s certainly going to stand up to Lord Fink.”
Fink has insisted his account at the Swiss private banking arm of HSBC was entirely legitimate and opened purely because he was working in Switzerland. The UK tax authorities knew of the account and did not disapprove, he said in a statement.
On Wednesday night, Miliband’s office insisted he would not back down and said it was for Fink to prove his complex tax arrangements were in order and then for the public to come to a judgment.
Miliband is likely to be very specific in what he repeats. In the Commons he referred to tax avoidance, not evasion, and did not describe Lord Fink directly as a dodgy donor. Tax avoidance is legal, but deprives the Treasury of income.
Appearing on LBC radio, the deputy prime minister Nick Clegg called for all the parties to reach an agreement on party funding within six months of the election.
This article was written by Rowena Mason and Patrick Wintour, for theguardian.com on Thursday 12th February 2015 09.58 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010