Nadhim Zahawi sacked by PM Rishi Sunak

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Nadhim Zahawi’s allies have claimed he has been sacked by Rishi Sunak without being given a fair hearing in the tax row. The Prime Minister yesterday fired the Conservative Party chairman shortly after an ethics inquiry into the Tory chairman found that he had committed a “serious breach” in the handling of his tax affairs.

Mr Sunak’s independent adviser on ministers’ interests, Sir Laurie Magnus, rapidly concluded his investigation after serious questions emerged for the former chancellor over a multimillion-pound settlement with HMRC which included paying a penalty.

But Mr Zahawi’s allies suggest the report was rushed out for political expediency.

The Telegraph cited claims Mr Zahawi was only given a 30-minute meeting with the independent adviser to defend himself.

His allies also said a number of key facts in his favour were not included by the ethics adviser.

But health minister Helen Whately today defended Mr Sunak over his decision to sack Mr Zahawi, having initially resisted calls to sack him insisting there was a need for “due process” as the probe was carried out. 

Ms Whately told Times Radio: “What the Prime Minister put in place was his independent ethics adviser, Sir Laurie Magnus, to look into the facts of the case.

“So he was under pressure to go straight to it and people were saying he should have moved faster but actually he followed a fair process.

“Sir Laurie Magnus looked into it, he set out in his letter very clearly what did or didn’t happen and that was the basis on which the Prime Minister removed Nadhim Zahawi from office.”

Asked whether she thought Mr Zahawi “got a fair hearing”, Ms Whately said: “I would say so, yes.”

The Stratford-on-Avon MP’s sacking comes as the PM, who came to office promising “integrity”, is facing pressure on multiple fronts as he battles to unite a divided party which is floundering behind Labour in the polls.

Meanwhile, deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab remains under investigation by senior lawyer Adam Tolley KC over bullying complaints. He has denied all allegations.

Former Conservative chancellor George Osborne last night warned that Mr Sunak needed to “do something pretty quickly” to rescue his premiership from the kinds of scandals that dogged his predecessor Boris Johnson.

He told The Andrew Neil Show on Channel 4: “And at the moment, he is being pulled down by a series of scandals which do not directly involve him, are kind of hangovers, if you like, of the Johnson era.”

Sir Laurie’s four-page report, dated January 29, said the technical details of the HMRC investigation were outside his scope.

Instead, he considered Mr Zahawi’s “handling of the matter in light of his responsibilities as a minister”.

In that regard, he 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”.

Among the findings, he notes “omissions” from Mr Zahawi that amount to a “serious failure” to meet the standards of the Ministerial Code.

The Stratford-on-Avon MP did not comment explicitly on the row in his letter to the Prime Minister following his sacking and instead took aim at the media.

The row surrounding Mr Zahawi centres 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 Mr Zahawi’s family.

Mr Zahawi previously 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.

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