Nadhim Zahawi has been sacked by Rishi Sunak after a “serious breach of the Ministerial Code”.
It comes after the Prime Minister ordered an investigation into Zahawi by Sir Laurie Magnus, his independent adviser on ministers’ interests, following reports that the Tory chairman had paid a penalty as part of an estimated £4.8 million settlement dispute with HMRC.
In a letter to Zahawi, Sunak said that, following the investigation, which completed its work after only a few days, “it is clear that there has been a serious breach of the Ministerial Code”. “As a result, I have informed you of my decision to remove you from your position in His Majesty’s Government.”
Sunak and his Government had faced questions for several days about the row, with growing pressure on Zahawi to stand aside. In the letter, Sunak told the Tory MP: “When I became Prime Minister last year, I pledged that the Government I lead would have integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level.”
He paid tribute to Zahawi’s contribution to the Government, including his role as vaccines minister during the pandemic.
“As you leave, you should be extremely proud of your wide-ranging achievements in Government over the last five years. In particular, your successful oversight of the Covid-19 vaccine procurement and deployment programme which ensured the United Kingdom was at the forefront of the global response to the coronavirus pandemic.”
Zahawi breached code seven times
Sir Laurie’s four-page report, dated 29 January and setting out in detail the circumstances of Zahawi’s tax affairs and communications with HMRC, found that the Tory chairman had shown “insufficient regard for the General Principles of the Ministerial Code and the requirements in particular, under the seven Principles of Public Life, to be honest, open and an exemplary leader through his own behaviour”.
The row surrounding Zahawi had centred on a tax bill over the sale of shares in YouGov – the polling firm he founded – worth an estimated £27 million and which were held by Balshore Investments, a company registered offshore in Gibraltar and linked to Zahawi’s family.
How has Zahawi responded?
Zahawi had said that HMRC concluded there had been a “careless and not deliberate” error in the way the founders’ shares, which he had allocated to his father, had been treated. He also insisted he was “confident” he had “acted properly throughout”.
In his letter to the Prime Minister following his sacking, Zahawi replied: “Thank you for your kind words. It has been, after being blessed with my loving family, the privilege of my life to serve in successive Governments and make what I believe to have been a tangible difference to the country I love. I arrived in this country fleeing persecution and speaking no English.
“Here, I built a successful business and served in some of the highest offices in government. I believe that in no other country on earth would my story be possible. It reaffirms my belief in the greatness and compassion of our nation.
“I take particular pride in two achievements in government. First, the vaccine rollout. This saved huge numbers of lives. It is also what has allowed us to move beyond Covid and get our economy and society moving again. I believe there are wider lessons for government in the success of this programme.
“Policy making and delivery are normally treated as two separate processes. In the vaccine rollout, they were combined, and I think that accounts for why it worked so well. If we could apply this model to other parts of government, I believe it could have transformative results.
“The second was my role in the mourning period for Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Those days, that celebration of her life of service represented so much of what is best about our country. I was honoured that as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster I could help ensure that everything went smoothly and that as many people as possible could pay their respects and tributes to our longest serving monarch.
“I am concerned, however, about the conduct from some of the fourth estate in recent weeks. In a week when a Member of Parliament was physically assaulted, I fail to see how one headline on this issue ‘The Noose Tightens’ reflects legitimate scrutiny of public officials. I am sorry to my family for the toll this has taken on them.
“You can be assured of my support from the backbenches in the coming years. Your five priorities are the right priorities, and I will do whatever I can to help you deliver them.”
Prime Minister ‘showed himself to be too weak to act’
Bridget Phillipson, Labour’s shadow education secretary, said that the Prime Minister should have sacked Zahawi before now. “Nadhim Zahawi failed to pay the taxes he owed in this country and tried to silence those who spoke out about it.
“Despite the writing on the wall, the Prime Minister showed himself to be too weak to act. Rishi Sunak should have sacked Nadhim Zahawi a long time ago, just as he should have acted over Dominic Raab and Suella Braverman, but in his weakness he promoted them. The reason this keeps happening is we have a Government whose only principle is party first, country second. The Tories are governing in their own interests, with a Prime Minister who is trying to manage his MPs, rather than govern in the national interest.
“It’s vital that we now get answers to what Rishi Sunak knew and when did he know it? We need to see all the papers, not just have the Prime Minister’s role in this brushed under the carpet. Britain deserves better than this which is why we need a Labour government focused on a fairer, greener, more dynamic Britain.”
More to follow.