Rishi Sunak said it was ‘stupid’ to say he had no working-class friends in a video from nearly 20 years ago that resurfaced at the start of the campaign leadership of the curators.
The former chancellor’s bid to become prime minister has been dogged by questions about his background, and a video from 2001, which went viral earlier this month, has done little to allay concerns that it lacks common contact.
It showed Sunak, who would have been 21 at the time, on a BBC show called Middle Classes: Their Rise & Sprawl. Sunak says in the seven-second video: “I have friends who are aristocrats, I have friends who are upper class, I have friends who are working class – well, not class. factory Girl.”
Sunak, who is believed to be parliament’s wealthiest MP, with a personal fortune of around £200million, was quizzed on the claim when quizzed by veteran journalist Andrew Neil on Channel 4 on Friday.
Referring to Sunak’s claims about the campaign trail as coming from a modest background, Neil asked: ‘You talked a lot about your supposedly ordinary background, your background. Why when you were young did you say you had no working class friends?
In response, Sunak replied, “Andrew, we all talk nonsense when we are students. I talked about my background. My family was welcomed here as migrants.
After Neil stepped in, he continued, “I grew up working in my mom’s pharmacy. You don’t grow doing that unless you meet a lot of people.
“We served our community and my parents worked hard to provide me with opportunities, which is ultimately why I want to be prime minister, because this country has given my family that opportunity.
“As prime minister, I want to do the same for everyone.”
The son of a GP and a pharmacist, Sunak was head boy at Winchester College, where parents currently pay £11,330 per term for their children to attend day school.
Sunak continued his studies at Oxford University, then took an MBA at Stanford University, before becoming an investment banker at Goldman Sachs.
Sunak and his wife made the Sunday Times rich list in May, with a combined wealth of £730million.
Earlier this year, Sunak was embroiled in a controversy over his personal finances.
His multi-millionaire wife was revealed to have non-domiciled tax status, meaning she was able to save millions in tax on all foreign income.
Akshata Murty, whose billionaire father founded Indian IT services company Infosys, receives around £11.5million a year from his stake in the tech company.
Once this information was made public in April, Murty confirmed that she would start paying UK tax on worldwide income so it wouldn’t be a “distraction for my husband”.
Sunak defended his wife’s former non-domiciled tax status for tax purposes when questioned by Neil.
He said: “It is me who is running for office and not my wife. My wife is also from abroad.
“Several months ago we addressed this issue and she resolved the situation.”
Neil fired back, saying: “You have to apply for it, so when ordinary families were struggling to make ends meet, you raised their taxes, your family got millions in tax breaks.”
Sunak, who looked uncomfortable, said, “You are a non-dom under the law. How you choose to file your taxes is a choice and she followed the rules…
“The status is determined by law because she’s from overseas and she pays UK tax and still has it on all her UK income.”
The Tory leadership hope was also grilled on the economy and immigration for nearly half an hour by Neil, whom rival Liz Truss has so far refused to sit down with.
Sunak denied that his course of fiscal policy tightening would lead to a recession as he claimed his rival Truss’ plans for sweeping tax cuts would create a “sugar rush boom”.
When asked if she would watch Sunak’s interview on Channel 4, Truss told reporters she would be celebrating her wedding anniversary.
Sunak and Truss were asked separately about a range of policy areas in roundups with Tory members on Thursday, the first of 12 sessions for party loyalists across the country to toast the two final contenders, before voting for the next leader. Conservative and Prime Minister closes September 2.