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Who funds Rishi Sunak’s jet-setting?

The latest scandals and gossip from Westminster and Fleet Street

Rishi Sunak boards his plane at the end of his visit for the AUKUS summit on March 13 (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

The mystery surrounding the generous Tory party donor Akhil Tripathi is deepening. I have heard from a reliable source that the private jet that Tripathi made available to Rishi Sunak and his aides to fly to party events in Scotland and Wales in April did not in fact belong to him. This has been confirmed by Mr. Tripathi himself, who in unequivocal terms denies ownership of the jet in question. It begs the question, whose jet was the prime minister flying on?

Five months ago, after I first made inquiries about the flights that had cost £38,500, Sunak set about amending his entry in the register of members’ interests, veering between naming Tripathi as the donor and an outfit called Balderton Medical Consultants. It was later confirmed by Downing Street that the entry made referring to BMC was made in error and Akhil Tripathi denies any involvement with the company.

The PM’s press team have always been reluctant to get into the details of these flights, so I would publicly like to ask them to clarify that since Tripathi was indeed not the owner of the private jet that Sunak and his team had flown in, then whose jet is it? I’d also like to know if Sunak would characterise his relationship with Tripathi as close and whether he is also on good terms with any serving or former ministers?

Little is known about Tripathi – he guards his privacy jealously – but he is listed as a director of Signifier Medical Technologies where the reputable hedge fund Brevan Howard invested $10m a few years ago. I’ve heard talk of Tripathi being a doctor and he would appear to be something of a socialite – he’s a member of the London club Annabel’s – and he is believed to live in a property in London’s exclusive Chester Square, but also, with his wife, Poorva, has links to a less glamorous property in St Albans.

I will naturally be happy to publish the replies of Sunak’s press team to my questions, and, if there is anything Tripathi wishes to say about himself, I will be more than happy to accommodate his comments, too.

The first rule of journalism is never to rubbish your own newspaper’s stories. On the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, there’s a second rule, which is never to get on the wrong side of Sarah Vine.

Mail columnist Nadine Dorries managed to spectacularly break both rules on Laura Kuenssberg’s Sunday morning show when she asked, in relation to the paper’s lead story about Michael Gove being “jostled and abused by a pro-Palestine hate mob,” what the minister was doing in the middle of Victoria Station in the first place, unnecessarily adding to the workload of the police, and even wondered out loud if he was drunk.

Vine, who was quoted in the Mail on Sunday piece expressing her concern for her former husband’s safety, prides herself on her closeness to Lady Rothermere, the wife of the newspaper group’s owner, and was widely seen to have been instrumental in the removal of Geordie Greig as editor of the Daily Mail. Greig’s crime so far as Vine had been concerned was once running a piece in the London Evening Standard about the closeness of her then husband to Dominic Cummings.

One Mail employee I talked to said Dorries is now doomed.

After being first to draw attention to how the same people behind Brexit – the Telegraph, the Mail, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Nigel Farage et al – were backing “anti-woke” candidates to sit on the National Trust’s ruling council, it was pleasing to see a record turn-out of members make it clear at their AGM over the weekend that they wanted nothing to do with them. All five of the candidates recommended by the elected council’s nominations committee were voted in by members. “Thank you for voting – it’s important,” said Celia Richardson, its director of communications. “The National Trust is for everyone, for ever.”

One of the rebels stormed out when the results were announced, but members appear to have got wise to their antics. One stated that if the current voting rules were to change in line with the wishes of the private company Restore Trust, then any candidate backed by them must, going forward, be clearly identified on voting papers and the same should apply to any candidates who are backed by oil companies etc.

Among the complaints made against the National Trust was that its guides at the magnificent Kingston Lacy house in Dorset were acknowledging that William John Bankes – who inherited the property in 1834 and built up its art collection – had been forced out of Britain because of his gay relationship with a soldier. I visited it during the summer and heard one visitor in bright red trousers saying he was “sick to death of all this LGBT nonsense.” An elderly lady replied that she couldn’t see how he could argue against “historical fact.” There was a spontaneous round of applause.

Rishi Sunak may have his critics, but it is unlikely there are many of them sitting around the boardroom table of Infosys, the global tech giant founded by his father-in-law NR Narayana Murthy.

Government contracts keep coming the company’s way, with one worth £562m awarded in August with the Financial Conduct Authority and being shared by it and other suppliers. In addition it has just landed a £1.3m contract with the Care Quality Commission.

The prime minister’s wife Akshata Murthy holds a 0.89% stake in the firm, and, while it is the primary source of the Sunak family riches, he has still to get around to reporting it in either the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, or on the list of Ministers’ Interests.

Earlier this year, Mandrake revealed that the firm had boasted of its ties with the PM in its 2022 annual report, as well as the then £172m worth of public sector contracts it had a hand in. During the period covered in the accounts, Boris Johnson was in Downing Street. There is no suggestion of wrongdoing.

Sir Keir Starmer and Sir Ed Davey may have succeeded in thwarting serious debate about Brexit on the main stages of their respective conferences, but the question of whether or not it has been a disaster for Britain will be posed at the Leicester Square Theatre in London on November 21.

Alex Salmond, the former first minister of Scotland, will be arguing that it has – along with Gina Miller and Andrew Marr – against a team led by the former Tory minister David Davis and consisting of Brexiteer baroness Claire Fox and Mike Graham of TalkTV, who will attempt to argue that it has been a success. One hopes Graham will be more convincing than on the infamous show in which he insisted that concrete could be grown.

John Bercow, the former speaker, who will be trying to keep order, says it’s a pity the debate can’t be had in mainstream politics. “It will be fascinating to see whether the debate has moved on since the rather desultory exchanges which I presided over in the Commons,” he tells me. “In particular, the Rejoiner argument will be tested to see if it commands the support it deserves. I think one of the key aspects of this show is demonstration that controversial issues can be fought over in a fundamentally good-natured manner.”

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