Sunak sacks Zahawi over 'clear breach of ministerial code'

The Tory party chairman has been under increasing pressure over his tax affairs in recent weeks

Nadhim Zahawi sacked by Rishi Sunak over ‘clear breach of ministerial code’ No 10 Downing Street

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has sacked Tory party chairman Nadhim Zahawi over what he described as “serious breach of the ministerial code”.

The PM acted after coming under weeks of pressure regarding Zahawi’s tax affairs after it emerged he paid a penalty to HMRC to settle previously unpaid tax.

The former chancellor was at the centre of an investigation by Sir Laurie Magnus, his independent adviser on ministers’ interests, following reports that he had paid the fine as part of an estimated £4.8 million settlement.

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.”

He 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.”

Sir Laurie’s four-page report, dated January 29 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.

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”.

SNP Cabinet Office spokesperson Kirsty Blackman said: “Nadhim Zahawi should have been sacked well before now, but it has only been Rishi Sunak’s dithering and indecision that has kept him in post.

“The Prime Minister shouldn’t have needed an ethics advisor to tell him that a sitting Chancellor should not be in a tax dispute about millions of pounds of unpaid taxes.

“Sunak still has questions to answer over this whole affair about what he knew about the settlement and what advice he received about Zahawi’s tax on his appointment.”

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