RISHI SUNAK has sacked Nadhim Zahawi as Tory party chairman over a “serious breach” of the ministerial code, after The Independent first revealed details of an HMRC investigation.
The prime minister said on Sunday that ethics adviser Sir Laurie Magnus had found Mr Zahawi had broken ministerial rules in his handling of the tax probe – including making “untrue” public statements.
In a letter to Mr Zahawi, Mr Sunak wrote: “Following the completion of the independent adviser’s investigation – the findings of which he has shared with us both – it is clear that there has been a serious breach of the ministerial code.”
The PM added: “As a result, I have informed you of my decision to remove you from your position in His Majesty’s Government.”
It emerged earlier this month that Mr Zahawi had paid a £1m penalty as part of a £5m tax settlement, prompting pressure Tory MPs for the senior figure to quit and end the “distraction” of the tax saga.
The Independent first revealed in July 2022 that HMRC was investigating Mr Zahawi’s taxes in relation to an offshore company Balshore Investments, which had held shares in the polling company he co-founded, YouGov.
Mr Zahawi intially dismissed the story as a “smear”, claimed he was “not aware” of HMRC inquiries, and threatened The Independent and others with legal action. But last Saturday, the minister admitted that HMRC had found an “error” that was “careless and not deliberate”.
Sir Laurie revealed in his letter to Mr Sunak that the HMRC investigation had started back in April 2021, and that Mr Zahawi had attended a meeting with tax officials about it in June 2021 – well before he was made education secretary in September 2021.
Mr Zahawi told Sir Laurie that he had “formed the impression” he was only being asked “certain queries” over his tax affairs. But the ethics adviser said Mr Zahawi should have understood the investigation was a “serious matter”.
The No 10 ethics adviser also accused him of making an “untrue public statement” about the probe, saying ministers have a duty to “be as open as possible with parliament and the public”. Sir Laurie also found serious “omissions” by Mr Zahawi to government officials which fell short of the ministerial code.
THE DISMISSAL LETTER IN FULL
A letter from the Prime Minister to Nadhim Zahawi posted on the No. 10 website, reads as follows: “When I became Prime Minister last year, I pledged that the Government I lead would have integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level.
“That is why, following new information which came to light in recent days regarding your personal financial arrangements and declarations, I asked Sir Laurie Magnus, the Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests, to fully investigate this matter. You agreed and undertook to cooperate fully with the inquiry.
“Following the completion of the Independent Adviser’s investigation – the findings of which he has shared with us both – 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.
“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. Your role was critical to ensuring our country came through this crisis and saved many lives. And as the Conservative party Chairman, you have undertaken significant restructuring to Conservative Campaign Headquarters and readied us for important work in the coming months.
“It is also with pride that I, and previous Prime Ministers, have been able to draw upon the services of a Kurdish-born Iraqi refugee at the highest levels of the U.K. Government. That is something which people up and down this country have rightly valued.
“I know I will be able to count on your support from the backbenches as you continue to passionately and determinedly serve your constituents of Stratford-on-Avon and represent the many issues and campaigns you are dedicated to. Thank you for your service to this and previous governments.”