March 22, 2023

Rishi Sunak has fired Conservative Party chairman Nadhim Zahawi over a “serious breach” of U.K. government ethics rules relating to his tax affairs.

Zahawi has been hit by weeks of damaging headlines over an investigation into his personal taxes carried out by HM Revenue and Customs.

The party chairman and Cabinet Office minister was hit by a penalty from the tax authority while serving as a senior minister, with media reports putting the total charge at £4.8 million. An independent probe, ordered by Sunak and published Sunday morning, concluded Zahawi had not been sufficiently transparent about his private dealings with the tax authority when accepting a succession of senior ministerial roles.

In a letter to Zahawi confirming his sacking, Sunak said he had vowed to put “integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level” of his administration, and that the investigation by the government’s ethics watchdog Laurie Magnus had found “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 said.

No.10 also published Magnus’ letter to Sunak, setting out the findings of his short investigation. The ethics chief said that while Zahawi had “provided his full and open cooperation” with his own inquiry, he had shown “insufficient regard” for the ministerial code, and in particular, its requirement to be “honest, open and an exemplary leader.”

Zahawi had, Magnus concluded, failed to declare the HMRC investigation when he became Boris Johnson’s chancellor in July last year; failed to update his declaration of ministerial interests when he settled with HMRC last September; and failed to disclose the nature of the HMRC probe and penalty when Sunak was forming his own government in October 2022, “including to Cabinet Office officials who support that process.”

“Without knowledge of that information, the Cabinet Office was not in a position to inform the appointing Prime Minister,” Magnus concluded.

Zahawi hits out at press

In his reply to the prime minister, Zahawi — who served as U.K. vaccines minister as Johnson’s government vied to get COVID-19 under control — said it had 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.”

Zahawi’s own letter made no mention whatsoever of his tax affairs and instead attacked the media, saying he is “concerned” 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,” he said, referring to the front page of the Independent newspaper, whose reporting helped bring the tax investigation to light.

The sacking was seized on by the opposition Labour Party, with Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson arguing that Sunak had taken too long to act, and is a prime minister “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,” she added. “We need to see all the papers, not just have the prime minister’s role in this brushed under the carpet.”

This developing story is being updated.

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