Sunak stresses commitment to integrity following Zahawi sacking
Rishi Sunak said he acted decisively in Nadhim Zahawi’s sacking, stressing that “integrity is important to me”.
The Prime Minister sacked the Tory Party leader for breaching the Ministerial Code over his tax affairs.
Critics of Mr Sunak said he should have acted earlier, while Mr Zahawi’s allies complained that he had not been given an opportunity to make his case.
In County Durham, Mr Sunak said: “What I have done is follow a process, which is the right process.
“Integrity is really important to me – you all want to see that government is being run properly, that it’s being run with integrity, and that there’s accountability when people aren’t behaving the way they should, or when things aren’t going right, and we did that.”
Mr Sunak sacked Mr Zahawi on Sunday after Sir Laurie Magnus, the independent adviser on ministers’ interests, presented his critical findings.
The Prime Minister said that based on these facts I was able to “make a very quick decision that it is no longer appropriate for Nadhim Zahawi to remain in government”.
Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab is currently under investigation over allegations of bullying and Home Secretary Suella Braverman has been reinstated to the post after it was found that she had breached the Ministerial Code by sending a draft ministerial statement via a private email address to a MEPs sent the back seat.
However, Mr Sunak insisted he would “take all necessary steps to restore integrity to the policy and you can have confidence that the process is working”.
Sir Laurie’s inquiry found that Mr Zahawi had breached Ministerial Code by not being transparent about the multimillion-pound agreement reached with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) during his tenure as Chancellor, including the payment of a Penalty.
Allies of Mr Zahawi claimed the MP lost his job after being given limited time to present his case, with the Telegraph citing claims suggesting he was only given a 30-minute meeting with the independent adviser to defend yourself.
He is also said to have told Sir Tom Scholar, then Secretary of State for the Treasury, about the HMRC inquiry and the fine – Sir Tom was sacked when Liz Truss became Prime Minister.
Stratford-on-Avon MP Mr Zahawi did not comment explicitly on the row in his letter to the Prime Minister following his sacking, but instead took aim at the media when he commented “on the behavior of some fourthers in recent weeks” complained.
The Liberal Democrats wrote to Mr Sunak saying he should now withdraw the Tory whip from Mr Zahawi if he refuses to quit as MP.
Deputy Chair Daisy Cooper said: “Sunak dragged on about this scandal for weeks. He must act quickly now if he is serious about restoring the integrity of this tainted Conservative government.”
Labor Party leader Anneliese Dodds told BBC Radio 4 Today that her party had also written to the Prime Minister to ask him when he had heard about the HMRC inquiry into the former Conservative Party leader, adding adding that the prime minister “needed a backbone” and Mr Zahawi used to because “the facts were clear”.
She said, “There are serious questions that Rishi Sunak must answer. What did he know about the investigation into Nadhim Zahawi, the amount he had paid in unpaid taxes and the fine he had to pay?
“Why did Rishi Sunak say in Parliament that there were no questions to be answered on Mr Zahawi’s tax affairs and why do we see our Prime Minister continuing to support such a rogue gallery of ministers?”
Sir Laurie’s four-page report, which Mr Sunak received on Sunday morning, concluded that “Mr Zahawi’s conduct as Minister has fallen short of the high standards which you, as Prime Minister, are right to expect of those who serve in your government “.
Mr Zahawi’s failure to update officials on the tax investigation “represented a serious breach of the standards set out in the Ministerial Code,” Sir Laurie said.
The Tory leader had “failed to take sufficient account of the general principles of the Ministerial Code and in particular the requirements of the seven principles of public life to be honest, open and a model of leader through one’s own conduct”.
Sir Laurie said: “In the appointment process for the governments formed in September 2022 and October 2022, Mr Zahawi has not disclosed any relevant information at the time of his appointment – in this case the nature of the investigation and its outcome in the form of a penalty. including to Cabinet Office officials who are assisting in this process.
“Without knowing this information, the Cabinet Office was unable to inform the appointing prime minister.”
Stephen Massey, the party’s chief executive, has stepped in as interim leader until Mr Sunak chooses a successor.
Former Tory leader Lord Hague, Mr Sunak’s predecessor as MP for Richmond, dismissed speculation linking him to the vacancy.
“Having seen reports from people who have bet on me as the new party leader, please be aware that I will absolutely not be returning to politics, in any shape or form, including this one,” he said.