Rishi Sunak has said he was “silly” to say he had no working class friends in a video from almost 20 years ago that resurfaced at the start of the Tory leadership campaign.
The former chancellor’s bid to become prime minister has been dogged by questions about his entitled background, and a video from 2001, which went viral earlier this month, did little to dispel concerns he lacks a common touch.
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 working class.”
Sunak, who is considered the richest MP in parliament, with a personal wealth of around £200 million, was asked about the claim when quizzed by veteran journalist Andrew Neil on Channel 4 on Friday.
Referencing Sunak’s claims on the campaign trail to have come from a humble background, Neil asked: “You talked a lot about your supposedly ordinary origins, your background. Why, when you were young, did you say you had no working class friends?”
In response, Sunak replied: “Andrew, we all say silly things when we are students. I’ve talked about my background. My family were welcomed here as migrants.”
After Neil interjected, he continued: “I grew up working in my mum’s pharmacy. You don’t grow up doing that unless you encounter lots of people.
“We served our community and my parents worked hard to provide opportunities for me, that is ultimately why I want to be prime minister, because this country allowed my family the opportunity.
“As prime minister, I want to do the same for everybody.”
The son of a GP and pharmacist, Sunak was head boy at Winchester College, where parents currently pay £11,330 per term for their children to attend the day school.
Sunak went on to study at the University of Oxford, and later took on 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 the combined wealth of £730 million.
Earlier this year, Sunak became embroiled in controversy over his personal finances.
It was revealed that his multi-millionaire wife had a non-domicile tax status, meaning she was able to save millions in tax on any foreign earnings.
Akshata Murty, whose billionaire father founded the Indian IT services company Infosys, receives around £11.5million annually through her stake in the tech firm.
Once this information went public in April, Murty confirmed she would start paying UK taxes on a global income so that it wasn’t a “distraction for my husband”.
Sunak defended his wife’s previous non-domiciled tax status for tax purposes when questioned by Neil.
He said: “I’m the one running for office and not my wife. My wife is also from abroad.
“Several months ago, we addressed this thing and she resolved the situation.”
Neil hit back, saying: “You have to apply for it, so when ordinary families were struggling to make ends meet, you were whacking up their taxes, your family was enjoying millions in tax exemptions.”
Sunak, who appeared uncomfortable, said: “You are a non-dom as a matter of law. How you choose to file your taxes is a choice and she followed the rules…
“The status is determined by law because she is from abroad and she does pay British tax and always has on all of her British earnings.”
The Tory leadership hopeful was also grilled on the economy and immigration for nearly half an hour by Neil, with whom rival Liz Truss has so far declined to sit down.
Sunak denied his path of tightening fiscal policy would lead to a recession as he claimed rival Truss’s plans for vast tax cuts would create a “sugar rush boom”.
Asked if she would be watching Sunak’s Channel 4 interview, Truss told reporters said she would be marking her wedding anniversary.
Sunak and Truss were questioned separately on an array of policy areas in hustings with Tory members on Thursday, the first of 12 sessions for the party faithful across the country to grill the final two contenders, before voting for the next Tory leader and prime minister closes on September 2.