Northern Ireland

Jim Harra, HM Revenue & Customs boss from the north, thrust into centre of Tory tax controversy

HM Revenue & Customs boss Jim Harra
HM Revenue & Customs boss Jim Harra HM Revenue & Customs boss Jim Harra

THE FURORE surrounding Nadhim Zahawi's tax affairs has thrust a Northern Ireland-born civil servant into centre of the controversy.

HM Revenue & Customs boss Jim Harra was quizzed earlier this week by MPs about penalties paid by the Conservative party chair.

Mr Harra said his department did not penalise taxpayers who were deemed to have taken “reasonable care” and there were “no penalties for innocent errors” in relation to tax affairs.

The 60-year-old HMRC chief executive's family are based at Dollingstown in Co Down.

He attended Donaghcloney Primary School in Co Down and, Tandragee Junior High School and Portadown College in Co Armagh.

Mr Harra read law at Queen's University Belfast before joining the Inland Revenue in 1984 as tax inspector.

He is also HMRC's LGB&T champion.

Mr Zahawi has authorised HM Revenue and Customs to discuss his settlement - estimated to be worth £4.8 million and include a penalty - with the investigation ordered by Rishi Sunak.

Under questioning after a Bloomberg speech, Mr Hunt said: "I'm not going to talk about my personal tax affairs, but I don't think there's anything you'd find interesting to write about if I can put it that way."

He declined to answer when pressed again and added: "By the way, I don't think people at home are remotely interested in personal tax affairs, they are interested in these things," gesturing towards the British government's five priorities.

Senior Tory MP Sir Jake Berry has said it is "unsustainable" for Mr Zahawi to remain in power, arguing it was necessary to step aside while under investigation so the public can have faith in the process.

The former minister, who was Mr Zahawi's direct predecessor as party chairman, told BBC Question Time on Thursday: "Even though he is a friend of mine, I'm not going to allow that from a view I've put forward consistently.

"The government needs to find a mechanism for ministers and MPs who are under investigation in this way to step aside, to clear their name, and then to come back into government if that is appropriate.

"I think from Nadhim, great individual that he is, that would be the right thing to do now."

Mr Sunak has refused calls from Labour and other senior Tories including Caroline Nokes to remove Mr Zahawi's post either permanently or temporarily.

Yesterday, a source close to Mr Zahawi said he would permit HMRC to share details of his case with ministerial standards adviser Sir Laurie Magnus.