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'Rishi looks weak' despite sacking chairman, says former minister

Rishi Sunak "looks weak" despite sacking Nadhim Zahawi from his role as Conservative Party chairman, a former minister has said.

The Prime Minister dismissed Mr Zahawi on Sunday morning after Sir Laurie Magnus, his ethics adviser, found he committed a "serious breach of the Ministerial Code" over his taxes.

Mr Zahawi came under fire after it emerged he settled an estimated £4.8 million bill with HMRC during his time as chancellor last summer, and Sir Laurie concluded that he had committed seven separate breaches of the Code.

Speaking to Camilla Tominey Today, the GB News programme hosted by The Telegraph's Associate Editor, Michael Portillo said the episode represented a "terrific blow against the Government" and that Mr Sunak "had an opportunity to get rid of him earlier" following the revelation Mr Zahawi paid a penalty to HMRC.

“It pains me to say this, but I think on the whole it makes Rishi look weak," Mr Portillo said. "I think he must have been kicking himself all week that he decided to refer this to an investigation rather than going with a decision straight away."

Separately, Mr Zahawi is planning to stay on as the MP for Stratford-on-Avon after his sacking by Rishi Sunak, The Telegraph has learned.

Asked if his scandal-hit colleague should stay in Parliament, Michael Gove, the Levelling Up Secretary, told Times Radio: "I don't think Nadhim should resign as an MP, absolutely not."


06:58 PM

That's all for today...

Thank you for joining us throughout the day across our live coverage of Nadhim Zahawi's sacking by Rishi Sunak.

Mr Sunak acted to dismiss the Tory chairman after Sir Laurie Magnus, the independent ethics adviser, found Mr Zahawi had committed no fewer than seven separate breaches of the Ministerial Code in a row over his tax affairs.

But there was criticism of the Prime Minister from those who felt he did not act quickly enough after it emerged a fortnight ago his now-former Cabinet colleague had reached a multi-million pound settlement with the taxman.

Rishi Sunak and Nadhim Zahawi - Andrew Wong/CCHQ
Rishi Sunak and Nadhim Zahawi - Andrew Wong/CCHQ

As backbenchers used the episode as a lightning rod to urge Mr Sunak to set out a clearer vision for the country and act quicker in any similar future cases, Mr Sunak looks set to pass the 100-day mark of his premiership next week with sleaze and scandal fresh in the minds of the public.

This is a Prime Minister who has put a pledge to "restore trust" at the heart of his personal and political offering. With a general election widely expected next year, he may have as little as 12 months to deliver on that promise.


06:23 PM

Act 'swiftly' either way on Dominic Raab, says Tory MP

A Tory MP has urged Mr Sunak to learn from the negative headlines of the past fortnight and act “swiftly” to resolve the scandal surrounding Dominic Raab, who is under investigation over his alleged behaviour towards as many as two dozen civil servants.

“I can’t see how dragging it out for many more weeks is going to help very much,” they said. There’s no substitute for prime ministerial judgement... either say ‘yes, you’ve been wronged’, or tell him that it is all getting a bit much and ask him to stand down for a bit.”


06:06 PM

Priti Patel for Tory chairman?

Priti Patel this evening emerged as an outsider candidate as sources close to the former home secretary did not rule out her return to the Cabinet.

While she has previously turned down the chairman role, it is understood Ms Patel would be more open to considering the post this time around and she remains well-liked among the Brexiteer right of the Tory Party.


05:37 PM

'No time for a newcomer chairman'

One MP tells The Telegraph this evening: "I don’t think it’s time to give someone a first shot. It should be someone who has already done the job, simply because of the seriousness of the job at hand with an election round the corner."

They suggested Oliver Dowden, currently the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, or Amanda Milling could return to the role.

Another backbencher, who liked Nadhim Zahawi but felt the time had been right for him to go, was more downbeat: "Goodness knows who we’ll replace him with."


04:44 PM

Rishi Sunak must be more decisive, insists senior Tory

A former Cabinet minister has urged Rishi Sunak to be "more decisive and more upfront" to see off future scandals.

"My advice to him on the Zahawi thing was that as soon as he saw it was causing trouble, he should have invited him round for a chat to get to the bottom of it and should have made his own judgment as to whether it was defensible," the senior backbencher told The Telegraph.

"It could have been done as gently as possible... It’s actually done more damage to Zahawi as well as the Government. It was the worst of all possible outcomes – for the party, for the PM and for the minister who has to go.

"This week - now, Monday - he’s got to do the small boats. What’s holding him back? Why are they having internal rows? Why are we reading about difficulties? He's well up to speed on what the issues are. He’s got to get out there with an answer that actually works. He’s got to prove that he is the delivery man and what better place to start than small boats?

"And there's no substitute for going for growth – so that does mean some sensible tax cuts. By all means cost them and offset some of them with expenditure tightening in sensitive areas, but in practice more growth would produce more revenue and less growth will give you a deficit headache. So I fundamentally disagree with the noises coming out of the centre on how to run the economy."


03:56 PM

SNP spokesman Kirsty Blackman: Zahawi should have gone 'well before now'

"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 adviser 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."


03:22 PM

Robin Walker: Boris Johnson return would be 'very divisive'

Mr Walker, the chairman of the education select committee, tells The Telegraph:

I think obviously there’s been a proper investigation and it’s right that he’s got to go, but I think clearly he feels he hasn’t had a chance to clear things up on that front.

It is about due process and so on and so forth. It’s understandable that that’s the decision that’s been taken. Nadhim was an excellent secretary of state and someone who was very good to work with, but this clearly has gone too far and sadly he’s had to go.

Justin Tomlinson was an excellent deputy chairman and was very good on the campaign front. With an election just over a year away, it is a very important role and we do need someone good in that post. Clearly it’ll be a rapid decision, I would have thought, for the Prime Minister.

I don’t think [Boris Johnson returning] would be sensible, and I think with where we are we now need to move forward and not look back at the past. Given the number of people who felt that Boris had to step down, I think it would be very divisive to have any push for that – and I think we’ve already seen that one. I don’t really think that’s a feasible approach.


03:06 PM

'It's a very unhelpful time to be changing party chairman'

One Tory MP gets in touch to answer the question "who should be next?" with the words "I haven't got a clue".

"Whether they look again at someone who’s done it before and done it reasonably well, like Brandon Lewis or someone. I don’t know if he’s soiled his pitch with No 10 and the leadership.

"But it needs someone with some gravity, some capability and someone who’s done it before. It’s a very unhelpful time to be changing party chairman."


02:30 PM

Nadhim Zahawi: How Westminster reacted to Tory chairman's sacking


01:56 PM

Who's in the frame?

Matt Vickers and Brandon Lewis are the early favourites to replace Nadhim Zahawi as chairman of the Conservative Party, odds suggest.

Mr Vickers, the current Tory deputy chairman and a member of the 2019 intake of 'Red Wall' MPs, and Mr Lewis, the former justice secretary who is now on the backbenches, are the leading contenders on 3/1 and 4/1 respectively, according to early data from Star Sports Bet.

Other popular early choices include Mark Harper, the Transport Secretary (6/1), and Oliver Dowden, a former chairman who is currently the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (12/1).

Outside bets include Lord Pickles (100/1) and Lee Anderson (100/1).


01:37 PM

The seven times Nadhim Zahawi's tax affairs breached Ministerial Code

Nadhim Zahawi breached the Ministerial Code seven times during the row over his tax affairs, an investigation by Sir Laurie Magnus, the new ethics adviser, has concluded.

The Telegraph takes a look at each of the breaches committed by Mr Zahawi that have led to his sacking as Conservative Party chairman by Rishi Sunak.


01:04 PM

Michael Portillo: 'Rishi looks weak' despite sacking chairman

Rishi Sunak "looks weak" despite sacking Nadhim Zahawi from his role as Conservative Party chairman, a former minister has said.

The Prime Minister dismissed Mr Zahawi on Sunday morning after Sir Laurie Magnus, his ethics adviser, found he committed a "serious breach of the Ministerial Code" over his taxes.

Mr Zahawi came under fire after it emerged he settled an estimated £4.8 million bill with HMRC during his time as chancellor last summer, and Sir Laurie concluded that he had committed seven separate breaches of the Code.

Speaking to Camilla Tominey Today, the GB News programme hosted by The Telegraph's Associate Editor, Michael Portillo said the episode represented a "terrific blow against the Government" and that Mr Sunak "had an opportunity to get rid of him earlier" following the revelation Mr Zahawi paid a penalty to HMRC.

“It pains me to say this, but I think on the whole it makes Rishi look weak," Mr Portillo said. "I think he must have been kicking himself all week that he decided to refer this to an investigation rather than going with a decision straight away."


12:54 PM

Read the Zahawi investigation in full

Nadhim Zahawi has been sacked as Conservative Party chairman by Rishi Sunak, after an ethics inquiry into the handling of his tax affairs found a "serious breach" of the Ministerial Code.

It comes after the Prime Minister ordered an investigation into Mr Zahawi by Sir Laurie Magnus, his independent adviser on ministers' interests, following reports that the Tory chairman had paid a penalty as part of a dispute with HMRC.

Mr Sunak and his Government had faced questions for several days about the row, with growing pressure on Mr Zahawi to stand aside.

Now read Sir Laurie's full findings here


12:49 PM

Analysis: Rishi Sunak not out of the woods just yet

The end of the investigation into Nadhim Zahawi's tax affairs is a weight off the shoulders of Rishi Sunak, whose three months in No 10 have already been hit by a string of scandals.

Mr Sunak has been praised by Conservative MPs for his "decisive" action and having "done the right thing" by immediately dismissing Mr Zahawi from his role as party chairman.

Sunak - Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament/AFP
Sunak - Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament/AFP

But opposition politicians have nonetheless raised questions around how much he knew when about Mr Zahawi.

There is also the matter of a separate investigation into Dominic Raab, Mr Sunak's deputy and the Justice Secretary, over his alleged treatment of officials - the findings of which are not expected for weeks.

Today may represent an 'easy win' for the PM, who has acted quickly and decisively in response to Sir Laurie Magnus's findings. When it comes to the wider question of making good on his pledge to restore trust, however, Mr Sunak will find this is a Conservative Party that has some way to go.


12:31 PM

Jacob Rees-Mogg: 'I feel very sorry for Nadhim'


12:11 PM

Sunak has 'done the right thing' over Zahawi

The chairman of the Scottish Tories has praised Rishi Sunak for making "the right decision" in sacking Nadhim Zahawi.

Chris Hoy told the BBC's Sunday Show: "It was only right and proper that he asked Sir Laurie Magnus, his ethics adviser, to look into this issue, and so Laurie has come back and swiftly concluded that Nadhim has broken the Ministerial Code and the Prime Minister has then acted decisively in removing Mr Zahawi from office.

"I think the Prime Minister has done the right thing really."


12:05 PM

The ultimate Westminster fixer, felled by his own success

Like so much in contemporary politics, the rise and fall of Nadhim Zahawi has occurred at an accelerated, once unimaginable, tempo, writes Harry de Quetteville.

After securing his first government job, as Schools minister in 2018, his career soared at a rate only outdone by the vertiginous pace of its decline. He leapt from role to role like a frog from lilypad to lilypad, his feet barely touching down: Schools minister, Business minister, vaccine rollout supremo, Education Secretary, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Chairman of the Conservative Party - all in just four short years.

Nadhim Zahawi - Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Nadhim Zahawi - Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Amid this hi-tempo manoeuvring, then, it is an irony that his sudden downfall has come as the result of a tax scandal rooted in financial dealings almost 20 years old - and a full five years before he even entered parliament. With his sacking by Rishi Sunak, a time-bomb on a very slow fuse has detonated beneath one of Westminster’s fastest movers and shakers.

It has derailed the career of a fixer whose pragmatism and connections brought him success in both business and politics - but who found the latter ultimately undone by the former. His downfall is already being lamented. "He was always evidence based. He would always consider an argument,” one former colleague notes. “He was willing to compromise to get things done."

Long read: Can the Tories afford to lose such a shrewd operator?


11:46 AM

'Fully loaded Conservative' Boris Johnson for party chairman?

Boris Johnson "has all the qualities" to replace Nadhim Zahawi as Tory Party chairman, Jacob Rees-Mogg suggested this morning.

"I think it was a mistake to remove Boris Johnson, who was an excellent leader of the Conservative Party, and is the biggest figure in British political life, even out of office," Mr Rees-Mogg, the former business secretary, told Camilla Tominey, The Telegraph's Associate Editor, on her weekly Sunday morning GB News politics programme.

Johnson - Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Johnson - Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

"He's extraordinarily popular, people stop their cars to get out and talk to him and stop their vans and so on, which they don't generally do for politicians.

"But I think it's very difficult to bring back Boris Johnson in a subordinate role because he's such a big figure that he would dominate any Cabinet. But he has all the right attributes for a party chairman. He is charismatic, he rallies the troops. He's a sort of fully loaded Conservative. So I think that type of personality would be a very good one for a party chairman."


11:32 AM

'A major distraction for the Government'

Lord Ed Vaizey, the Conservative peer, said Sir Laurie Magnus's report into Nadhim Zahawi was "pretty unambiguous".

He told Times Radio: "It seems like it was pretty unambiguous. It's given Rishi Sunak the chance to sack Nadhim Zahawi.

"Nadhim Zahawi has become a major distraction for theGovernment which has more than enough problems to deal with already."

On MPs declaring conflicts of interests, Lord Vaizey added: "We expect ministers and MPs to be completely transparent in what they've got. And I think the mood has certainly changed in a sense, I think people genuinely now almost over declare things in order not to be caught out rather than under-declare. But it is an interesting point that ministers genuinely as far as I can remember, apart from signing the Official Secrets Act, don't receive any kind of positive vetting."


10:41 AM

Michael Gove: I don't think Nadhim should resign

Michael Gove, the Levelling Up Secretary, argued on Times Radio this morning that Nadhim Zahawi should "absolutely not" quit Parliament.

Asked if Mr Zahawi should stay on, Mr Gove said: "I don't think Nadhim should resign as an MP, absolutely not."


10:35 AM

From the journalist who broke the first Zahawi tax story:


10:21 AM

Analysis: Sorry seems to be the hardest word for Zahawi

The only apology in Nadhim Zahawi's letter was to his family over a headline in The Independent earlier this week.

Mr Zahawi noted that the digital-only newspaper's use of language came in the week Matt Hancock was allegedly assaulted on the Underground, and said their digital splash - 'The noose tightens' - was among behaviour by the "fourth estate" that caused him to feel "concerned".

However, there was no apology to his party leader Rishi Sunak, for whom this scandal has been a major embarrassment after he hoped to break with the scandal and sleaze that characterised Boris Johnson's final few months in office.

Nor was there any apology to the Stratford-upon-Avon constituents Mr Zahawi will continue to represent from the backbenches, his wider party at large, or indeed the public, who during the cost-of-living crisis will be scratching their heads about the sheer scale of a tax penalty worth a reported £4.7 million.

History is likely to be relatively kind to Mr Zahawi over the Covid jab rollout he oversaw as vaccines minister, and his role in organising the funeral of Elizabeth II during his brief stint as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

But in the absence of contrition in the wake of Sir Laurie Magnus's findings that there was a "serious breach" of the Ministerial Code, and that he had not adhered to the Seven Principles of Public Life, the political mood in the coming days is likely to be that bit less complimentary towards the now-former Tory chairman.


10:05 AM

Nadhim Zahawi plans to stay on as an MP

Nadhim Zahawi defied calls for his resignation from Parliament this morning as his press secretary confirmed he will stay on as a Tory MP, The Telegraph can confirm.


10:00 AM

Breaking: Nadhim Zahawi's letter to Rishi Sunak


09:59 AM

Rishi Sunak has been 'decisive', insists Michael Gove

Rishi Sunak has taken "decisive action" by sacking Nadhim Zahawi, Michael Gove insisted this morning.

"The Prime Minister regretfully but clearly decided it was time for Nadhim to go," the Levelling Up Secretary told broadcasters.

Pressed on why it took so long for Mr Zahawi to be sacked, Mr Gove replied: "I think it's important in all of these situations whenever allegations are made that they are investigated impartially, independently and in full. And that's what the Prime Minister wanted to see, that is what has happened.

"We recognise that whenever allegations are made, particularly serious ones, they require a full investigation. We don't want a precipitative rush to judgement, but we do - once all the facts are out - need decisive action, and that is what the Prime Minister has given today. Decisive action, but only after a full and proper investigation. Due process, then effective decision-making."

Mr Gove said integrity was about "doing the right thing" and Mr Sunak had adhered to this by making a full judgment about Mr Zahawi only "once the facts were established".


09:51 AM

Rishi Sunak: 'There has been a serious breach of the Ministerial Code'


09:47 AM

'What took Sunak so long?'

Rishi Sunak should have sacked Nadhim Zahawi "a long time ago", a Labour frontbencher has said.

"[He] failed to pay the taxes he owed and tried to silence those who spoke out about it," Bridget Phillipson, the shadow education secretary, said in the last few minutes.

"Despite the writing on the wall, the PM showed himself to be too weak to act."

Diane Abbott, the former shadow home secretary, asked: "What took Sunak so long?"


09:40 AM

Stand down as an MP, Nadhim Zahawi urged

Daisy Cooper, the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, this morning urged a public inquiry into "what Sunak knew" about Nadhim Zahawi, who she also urged to stand down.

Ms Cooper said: "Rishi Sunak has finally acted after spending days defending the indefensible on Nadhim Zahawi. It should never have taken him this long to act. Sunak's first 100 days in office have been tarnished by endless Conservative sleaze and scandals.

"Serious questions remain about what Sunak knew about Zahawi’s tax affairs when he appointed him. We need a proper independent inquiry to establish the facts and hold the Prime Minister to account.

"Given this was a serious breach of the ministerial code, Nadhim Zahawi must also do the right thing and resign as an MP. He has shown he is unfit to serve in Cabinet and unfit to serve the people of Stratford-on-Avon."


09:35 AM

What has happened?

Nadhim Zahawi, who was dismissed as Tory Party chairman this morning, came under fire after it emerged earlier this month he settled an estimated £4.8 million bill with HMRC during his time as chancellor last summer.

His tax affairs were the subject of an investigation by Sir Laurie Magnus, the Government's new ethics adviser, which was ordered by the Prime Minister earlier this week

Sir Laurie concluded Mr Zahawi had "failed" to meet requirements around declaring "any interests which might be thought to give rise to a conflict". He added that Mr Zahawi should have "previously declared" the HMRC inquiry into the sale of shares in YouGov, the polling firm he founded.

"It is a relevant interest which could give rise to a conflict, and particularly so in the case of HM Treasury Ministers and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has responsibility for the UK tax system," Sir Laurie wrote.

"I also conclude that, in the appointments process for the governments formed in September 2022 and October 2022, Mr Zahawi failed to disclose relevant information... at the time of his appointment, 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."

Sir Laurie praised Mr Zahawi for fully cooperating with the inquiry, but was dismissive of his claims in July 2022 that news stories about the investigation by the HMRC amounted to "smears", insisting he should have "understood that [he was] under investigation by HMRC and that this was a serious matter".

His findings concluded: "I consider that Mr Zahawi, in holding the high privilege of being a Minister of the Crown, has 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."


09:32 AM

Good morning

Dominic Penna here, The Telegraph's Political Reporter guiding you through what is already an extraordinary Sunday in British politics.

Rishi Sunak has sacked Nadhim Zahawi from his role as Conservative Party chairman after the ethics adviser found he committed a "serious breach" of the Ministerial Code.

I will bring you all the latest context, updates and reaction throughout the day.