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29 January 2023

Nadhim Zahawi’s sacking leaves Rishi Sunak with questions to answer

How much did the Prime Minister know about the former Tory chairman’s tax affairs and when?

By Rachel Wearmouth

Rishi Sunak has finally sacked Nadhim Zahawi as chairman of the Conservative Party after an investigation found that he breached the ministerial code over his tax affairs.

The Prime Minister’s ethics chief, Laurie Magnus, wrote in a letter to Sunak this morning that Zahawi was guilty of a “serious failure” to “meet the standards” set out in the ministerial code. In particular it was found that Zahawi failed to declare that he was under investigation by HMRC when he was appointed chancellor by Boris Johnson last July.

In an interview with the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg this morning Michael Gove, the Levelling Up Secretary, attempted to defend Sunak’s failure to remove Zahawi earlier by arguing that he deserved the “due process” of an investigation. But it became clear over a week ago that Zahawi had paid a penalty as part of his settlement with HMRC, which tax officials have said does not happen when an individual has made an innocent mistake. It was also revealed by the Guardian that Zahawi remained under investigation during his brief spell as chancellor.

Sunak will continue to face questions as to why he kept Zahawi, who threatened to take legal action against journalists who investigated his tax affairs, in post for more than a week. The Prime Minister promised “integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level” when he entered office last October but that pledge has already been tarnished by a succession of scandals. Dominic Raab, the Deputy Prime Minister, is being investigated by the Cabinet Office over multiple bullying allegations and Sunak has already had to dismiss Gavin Williamson as a minister over his conduct during his time as chief whip. 

Since concern over Zahawi’s tax affairs first emerged during last summer’s Tory leadership contest, Sunak may also have to explain exactly how much he knew and when.

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[See also: Once you’ve seen the true extent of Tory sleaze, it’s impossible to unsee it]

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