Rishi Sunak popularity slumps as he tries to draw line under Zahawi tax scandal
Rishi Sunak’s public popularity has plummeted, a new poll has found, as he tries to put an end to Nadhim Zahawi’s tax scandal and allegations that his government is “drowning in filth”.
The Prime Minister insisted on Monday he had acted “quite decisively” in sacking the Tory leader for breaching the Ministers Code over his tax affairs as he vowed to restore the “integrity” of politics.
But a new Ipsos poll found just one in three voters (32 percent) believe they have what it takes to be a good prime minister – ten points down from November.
Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer overtook Mr Sunak on credibility, with 36 per cent saying he had the qualities to be Prime Minister.
The poll, conducted by the Evening Standard, also gave Labor a 25-point lead over the Tories, with Sir Keir’s party leading Mr Sunak’s 51 points to 26.
Mr Sunak has been warned by senior Tories that his government could be ‘brought down’ by sleaze scandals, just as Sir John Major’s prime ministership was ruined in the mid-1990s.
Speaking at an NHS hospital in County Durham, the Prime Minister said he acted “immediately” after his ethics adviser, Sir Laurie Magnus, found that Mr Zahawi had breached Ministers’ Code rules on seven occasions by not being open and honest about his discussed tax matters.
“That should give you some confidence that these things are important to me. I will take whatever steps are necessary to restore integrity to politics,” added Mr Sunak, telling the audience of NHS staff and journalists: “Integrity is really important to me.”
Mr Sunak has been dogged by sleazy claims in recent days and his Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab is still under investigation over bullying allegations.
Labor leader Anneliese Dodds has said the Tories are “drowning in dirt”, accused Mr Sunak of building a “rogue gallery” of ministers – and pointed out that Home Secretary Suella Braverman was found to be against violated Ministerial Law by violating safety rules.
No10 said the difference between the Prime Minister’s approach to Zahawi and Ms Braverman’s security breach during her first term as Home Secretary was that she “took responsibility” for her actions.
Senior Tory MP Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown – treasurer of the party’s powerful 1922 committee – aligned himself with the Liberal Democrats in urging Mr Zahawi to consider stepping down before the next election. Sir Geoffrey said it was the “best result”.
The Lib Dems also called on Mr Sunak to withdraw Mr Zahawi’s whip and called for an investigation into the ex-Chancellor’s legal threats against it The Independent – after we first revealed the existence of the HMRC probe – and others.
However, other Conservative MPs rejected calls for his suspension or resignation in his Stratford-Upon-Avon. “He’s had enough punishment – he hasn’t broken the law,” said a Tory senior, angry at Mr Zahawi for “damaging” the party The Independent.
Tory MP John Penrose, the government’s former anti-corruption czar, told BBC Radio 4 today Program: “I don’t think, having just paid a huge fine and been fired from Cabinet, that we should be finding other things to heap on him right now.”
It came as No 10 dismissed claims by allies of Mr Zahawi – about an hour after Sir Laurie landed on Mr Sunak’s desk early Sunday morning – that he had been unfairly treated by the Prime Minister and the ethics adviser.
Mr Zahawi was said to be “angry” at the shot and his allies told him so The audience that he had told Tom Scholar, then Permanent Secretary to the Treasury, about both the HMRC investigation and the fine paid in September 2022.
They also claim his ministerial interest register was up to date in September, although Sir Laurie’s report says he had not updated it until earlier this month.
But No 10 dismissed the idea, which government officials knew from an HMRC fine in September. “The criminal offense was only determined at a later date. As the [ethics adviser] made clear [Mr Zahawi] did not disclose the details of the fine … until January.”
Mr Penrose said HMRC should have special permission to break the usual confidentiality of individuals’ tax returns in the case of Treasury Secretary scrutiny. “We need to have a system that works better,” he told Radio 5 Live.
Senior Tory MP Steve Brine, chair of the Health Committee, said holding “confirmation” hearings after cabinet ministers are appointed could help strengthen scrutiny. “I don’t think that’s unreasonable,” he told BBC Radio 4 world one.
The latest Ipsos poll found 55 per cent of voters are now dissatisfied with Mr Sunak, up from 49 per cent in December, with net satisfaction falling to -29 from -21.
The surprising results also show that only two out of ten voters think the Sunak government is competent. Two-thirds of voters (66 percent) believe it’s time for a change in the next election, the poll found. And among 2019 Tory voters, 40 percent believe it’s time for change.
Ex-Tory Chancellor George Osborne said so The Andrew Neil Show on Channel 4 that Mr Sunak may have to explain his own resignation last year over Mr Johnson’s approach to standards if he is to define himself as a ‘dirt breaker’.
Meanwhile, ex-Tory leader Lord Hague has dismissed speculation linking him to the vacant party leader post. “Please be aware that I will absolutely not be returning to politics in any shape or form, including this one,” he tweeted Monday.
Commons leader Penny Mordaunt emerged as the bookmakers’ favorite for the job. William Hill has Mordaunt at 4/1 ahead of Oliver Dowden and Michael Gove at 5/1.