After a few weeks of bad news stories that hurt the prime minister’s efforts to restore government integrity, Rishi Sunak fired Nadhim Zahawi as chair of the Conservative party for breaking the ministerial code in a serious way with his tax affairs. The accusations were about Zaha wi’s taxes.
Sir Laurie Magnus, Sunak’s new ethics adviser, did an investigation and came to the conclusion that Zahawi had broken the rules by not telling anyone about an HMRC investigation into his tax affairs that led to a settlement that included a $5 million fine.
Zahawi didn’t apologize for his actions. Instead, he took his anger out on the media, which he said went beyond what was considered a legitimate investigation into his tax problems. But the ethics adviser told him that he was wrong for saying things in public that were “not true” about the HMRC investigation.
In a letter to Zahawi, Sunak said that his ethics adviser had told him that there had been a “severe violation” of the ministerial code. This was the result of a phone call Sunak had with Zahawi early on Sunday morning. In the letter, he said, “Because of this, I’m writing to tell you that I’m going to fire you.”
Zahawi is the second cabinet minister to leave in Sunak’s first three months in office. His resignation comes after a tough few weeks for the prime minister, who had promised “integrity, professionalism, and accountability at every level” of his government when he took over No. 10. Zaha wi’s departure comes after a rough few weeks the prime minister. When he took office, he promised that his government would have “integrity, professionalism, and accountability at every level.”
He probably won’t be able to move on from the probity issue, since the results of an internal investigation into bullying claims against his deputy prime minister, Dominic Raab, are due in a few weeks.
Some Conservative Party members have questioned the wisdom of Prime Minister Sunak’s decision to re-appoint Zahawi, while others think that Sunak should have fired Zahawi sooner than a few hours after getting Magnus’s report on Sunday morning.
On Monday, the prime minister will go to north-east England to try to bring attention back to the National Health Service (NHS). But the prime minister is also being questioned about when and what he knew about the minister’s tax issues. There are rumors that when he chose the minister in October, he was warned that the government’s reputation could be at risk.
Insiders at Downing Street said that Sunak would not be in a hurry to replace Zahawi as chair of the Conservative party, and it was expected that when he did, he would do so with a close ally. But Tory MPs have said that Penny Mordaunt, the leader of the Commons, Andrew Mitchell, a minister in the Foreign Office, and Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, could be candidates for the job.
George Osborne, who was chancellor before him, said that the scandals that have hit the Conservative Party could cause Theresa May’s premiership to fall apart. In the next few weeks, hearings will start on the high-stakes investigation into whether Boris Johnson lied to members of parliament about Partygate.
“At the moment, he is being brought down by a bunch of scandals that don’t directly involve him and are, if you will, leftovers from the Johnson administration. But he needs to do something very quickly,” he said on Channel 4’s Andrew Neil show.
“I think he’s going to try to call himself “the sleaze buster” now, but it’s hard for him to do that… Rishi Sunak has always said, “We’ll see,” but he knows that the time to act is getting shorter with each week that passes and each new problem that comes to light.
Magnus came to the conclusion that Zahawi had broken the ministerial code seven times by not registering his tax affairs, denying reports in the media that he was being investigated by HMRC, and not fixing the record after making these false claims. He looked into the matter for a total of six days.
HMRC started its investigation of Zahawi in April 2021, and they met with the minister in June of that same year. Zahawi broke the code for the first time when he didn’t report the incident. He later told the ethics adviser that he didn’t know the investigation was a formal proceeding. Magnus, on the other hand, said that he should have known it was an investigation and treated it like a “serious problem.”
On September 15, 2021, and July 5, 2022, when Boris Johnson named Zahawi first as education secretary and then as chancellor, he broke the law twice. But Zahawi didn’t tell the most important people about the HMRC investigation until July 22, 2022.
Magnus said that the latest breach was especially bad because Zahawi was in charge of the Treasury, which is in charge of the UK’s tax system. He was able to reach a deal with HMRC while he was working there.
In July of last year, the media reported that HMRC was conducting an investigation. In response, Zahawi made a public statement in which he called the claims “false, unfair, and blatant slander.” He said he didn’t feel like he was the focus of an official investigation, and he didn’t update the record until January 21 of this year. Magnus said that there was a violation of the ministerial code because it took so long to fix a “public statement that was not true.”
While Zahawi was still chancellor in August 2022, he reached an agreement in principle with HMRC. In September 2022, he reached a final agreement with HMRC for about £5 million, which included a fine for not paying enough taxes. He didn’t tell anyone about this until about the middle of January.
His sixth and seventh violations of the code happened when he didn’t officially report the settlement, even to officials, when Liz Truss gave him cabinet positions in September 2022 and when Sunak made him Tory chair and minister without portfolio a month later. Both of these things happened after Liz Truss gave him a job in the cabinet. Zahawi made a change to his declaration of interest on January 16, 2023, and he included the results of the HMRC investigation.
In a letter to Sunak, the ethics adviser said, “Taken together, I think these omissions show a serious failure to meet the standards set out in the ministerial code.”
In his own letter to the prime minister, Zahawi did not apologize or make it clear that he agreed with the results of the ethics investigation into his tax problems. Instead, he hinted that he planned to keep being an MP “in the coming years,” even though many people wanted him to leave his job.
But in the past few weeks, he has said that he is worried about some things that have been going on in the media, which he says go beyond normal questions about his tax problems. In a statement, he said this. He specifically mentioned an article called “The noose tightens” that was published in the Independent. The Independent was the first news source to report that the HMRC was doing an investigation. The article was about how other Conservatives have asked him to leave his job.
The day after the HMRC penalty was made public, Zahawi released a statement saying that the tax agency had decided that he had made a “careless but not intentional” mistake.
But his statement raised as many questions as it answered, and it made it hard to believe what he had said before, like when he said in July 2022 that his taxes were “paid in full and up to date.” Also, letters from lawyers who said they would sue reporters who said this might not be true were brought into question.
Bridget Phillipson, a minister in the shadow cabinet, said this about Nadhim Zahawi: “Nadhim Zahawi did not pay the taxes he owed in this country, and when people talked about it, he tried to silence them.” Even though there were clear signs, the prime minister showed that he couldn’t make a decision. Nadhim Zahawi should have been fired a long time ago, but because Rishi Sunak was sick, he was actually promoted.
Michael Gove agreed with Sunak’s decision to ask for an ethics investigation before firing Zahawi. You can read Gove’s words in the original article, which you can find here. On the BBC show “Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg,” he said, “As a general rule, I think it’s very important that when charges are made, they are looked into right away. But we shouldn’t be too quick to judge until that investigation is done.”