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Economy & Business

British Parliament Grills David Cameron On Offshore Tax Connections


Members of Britain's House of Commons got the chance today to question Prime Minister David Cameron about an offshore company created by his father and revealed in the Panama Papers leak. Cameron has been under attack for the way he's handled the revelation. He told MPs that he was initially reluctant to comment because he was trying to protect his family.


DAVID CAMERON: I accept all of the criticisms for not responding more quickly to these issues last week. But, as I've said, I was angry about the way my father's memory was being traduced. I know he was a hard-working man and a wonderful dad, and I'm proud of everything he did to build a business and provide for his family.

SIEGEL: We're joined now by political correspondent Michael Wilkinson of the British paper The Daily Telegraph. He's been following this story and joins us via Skype. Welcome, Michael Wilkinson.


SIEGEL: Why did David Cameron feel that he had to make this statement to the Commons?

WILKINSON: Well, to put it bluntly, he's had the worst week of his prime ministerial career. It has been an absolutely horrid week, and he had to defend himself before MPs today. Today was the first day that they came back from their Easter break, so he had to go before them and explain himself.

SIEGEL: The issue being both that he had at some point benefited from an offshore company, but also that he had spoken out against this sort of corporation in the past.

WILKINSON: That's right. Actually, David Cameron is one of the - well, let's put it this way - one of the world's leading politicians to speak out on tax evasion. In fact, next month in London, he will be hosting an anti-corruption summit with global leaders coming to the city, and he'll be leading that to try and push forward the agenda in terms of tax evasion and cracking down on it. So it's actually quite embarrassing, and obviously that's been a focus over the past week.

SIEGEL: Well, did MPs seem to accept what he had to say about it today?

WILKINSON: Well (laughter), there was some interesting interaction. Let's just say it was high drama in the House of Commons today. One of the opposition MPs who is called Dennis Skinner - he's a labor MP. He also has the nickname of the beast of Bolsover. He's quite notorious. He described David Cameron as dodgy Dave which is a bit of a slur.

But he tried to get away with it in Parliament, but the speaker of the House asked him to withdraw the statement. He refused to withdraw it, saying that this is the man that has done more to divide the nation than anyone else. And so as a result, the speaker then had to expel this MP from Parliament. So this MP had to walk out. So it was a culmination of what's been sort of a - quite an eventful day, really.

SIEGEL: What does all of this say about political and social divisions in Britain today?

WILKINSON: Well, I think the long and short of it really is that many people have lost trust in politicians. I mean, this is not a new thing. This has been going on over the last few years, and it's been bubbling away. And I think across the world we've seen the rise of a sort of new anti-politics, if you like.

And politicians in Britain over the last week have becoming - come under a lot of pressure to release details of their own financial affairs. David Cameron spent a week trying to deflate this issue. But it ended in him releasing his tax returns for the last six years. And what we've seen today is an absolute flurry over MPs and politicians releasing theirs as well.

SIEGEL: Well, by releasing his tax information and by taking it on the chin a few times in the House of Commons today, does David Cameron put all this behind him now?

WILKINSON: Well, there were calls for him to resign. And on Saturday, there was a big protest in London. But actually, realistically, that's not really going to come to anything. David Cameron is not going anywhere.

But he does have a tough task on his hands in terms of trying to rebuild trust in the Conservative Party. This comes against the backdrop of a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union as well which has been hugely divisive for his party. So he's got his work cut out over the next few weeks to restore trust and get things on an equal footing again.

SIEGEL: Michael Wilkinson of The Daily Telegraph in London, thanks for talking with us.

WILKINSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.