When I asked Jeremy Hunt in November 2021 about his receipt of a benefit from the government of San Marino – noted in the parliamentary record on interests in respect of his holiday taken earlier that year with his family in San Marino, and valued at around £7.8k – he said: “The visit to San Marino was so they could confer on me the Honour of Grand Officer of the Equestrian Order of Saint Agatha.
“This is a bit like an honorary knighthood and so they kindly thought it was appropriate that I have family members present to witness such an occasion.
“I haven’t carried out any paid-for work on their behalf or anything of that nature. The trip also allowed me to learn more about the world’s oldest democracy and only surviving city state.
“I think it is helpful to have an understanding of other countries, particularly those who are our allies and trading partners.
“I will, of course, refer to this declaration if I ever speak in the House of Commons about San Marino or ask ministers anything about that country. I have no plans at the moment to do so, though.”
So far, so plausible, at least on the surface.
Now a deeper, more involved, context is emerging, as per The Guardian on August 2:
A low-tax treaty has been arranged with San Marino, the signing of which has been overseen by Mr Hunt, that which stands potentially to benefit San Marino nationals working in the UK.
The motivator of the low-tax treaty, and coincidentally of the original award to Mr Hunt, was San Marino businessman Maurizio Bragagni, who is a donor to the Tory Party (£700,000) and Mr Hunt himself (£30,000),
Would it be unchivalrous to suspect Mr Hunt’s characterisation of his interest in San Marino as a learning experience was less than a complete representation of what was actually going on?
Would it be ruder still to suppose there are dots to be joined up between these events, ie the donations and award at one end, and the treaty at the other?
In any case, perhaps we should ask ourselves whether it is appropriate for British MPs or parties to accept unofficial gifts (Mr Hunt was not in office at the time of the award) from foreign nationals or foreign governments.
In any case, what legitimate interest would Maurizio Bragagni have in British politics, other than gaining influence for a possible future advantage?
Should not responsible politicians not avoid such associations and stick to their paid jobs?
Crondall Lane, Farnham
Jeremy Hunt says: “I stand by every word I wrote to Mr Wilde.
“I declared hospitality as required by House of Commons rules and then, as chancellor, I took no decisions relating to the tax treaty with San Marino which was in train before I took office. It was completed following decisions taken by other ministers.
“Thank goodness we have transparency in our system, unlike other countries, where such questions can be asked and satisfactorily resolved.”