Iceland’s prime minister stood down yesterday after being linked to the financial scandals published in the so-called ‘Panama Papers’. Except that he didn’t. Instead Signmundur David Gunnlaugsson took a leaf out of the Nigel Farage book of non-resignation resignations.
After news of his departure began to emerge, the prime minister’s office put out a statement clarifying that he would simply be handing over the hot seat to the country’s agriculture and fisheries minister (the obvious go-to guy in a time of crisis), ‘for an unspecificed amount of time. The Prime Minister has not resigned and will continue to serve as Chairman of the Progressive Party.’
The scandal is an unfortunate blow for a nation that is trying to move on from its spectacular meltdown in the early days of the financial crisis – proportionally the largest collapse of any country's banking sector, ever.
Gunnlaugsson rode into office in 2013 on a wave of nationalist rhetoric, after criticising the country’s creditors (which include British and Dutch taxpayers) and the ‘vulture’ hedge funds who picked up the pieces of what was left of its finance industry on the cheap.
He hasn't been linked to tax avoidance or corruption, but the news that he and his wife owned an offshore company, Wintris, that was itself a creditor of Iceland (he sold his 50% stake to his wife for a symbolic $1 after entering parliament) was always going to be a red rag for his political opponents.
Presumably his plan now is to lay low for a bit until the dust settles. Plans for a snap election appear to have been put on ice - bad news for the country’s anti-establishment Pirate Party, which was on a whopping 46% in a recent opinion poll, despite being founded little more than three years ago.
Here in Blighty, David Cameron has faced questions after it emerged his father was a client of Mossack Fonseca, the law firm at the centre of the Panama Papers leaks. 'In terms of my own financial affairs, I own no shares,’ he told reporters yesterday. ‘I have a salary as prime minister, and I have some savings which I get some interest from and I have a house which we used to live in which we now let out while we're living in Downing Street, and that's all I have.’
Unlike his Icelandic counterpart, Cameron is unlikely to resign. But should he choose to stand aside perhaps George Eustice, our very own minister for agriculture, would be ready to step up to the plate.