Rishi Sunak dismissed the Conservative Party Chair, Nadhim Zahawi on Sunday Morning after his team discovered that Zahawi had seriously breached the ministerial code by failing to disclose the HMRC probe into his tax affairs.
"Integrity, professionalism and responsibility at every level" is the oath prime ministers take when coming into office. While Zahawi left office after a difficult few weeks due to public outrage, Sunak faced mounting pressure to officially fire him in order to honour the oath.
In a letter to Zahawi, Sunak wrote that because his ethics adviser had concluded there was a “serious breach” of the ministerial code he was encouraged to fire him from the governmental position.
Initially, Zahawi faced criticism for depositing an estimated £4.8 million bill to HMRC while serving as chancellor last summer. The independent ethics advisor, Sir Laurie Magnus concluded that he had broken the Code seven times causing the prime minister to launch an investigation.
The investigation discovered that Zahawi did not disclose that he was a conflict of interest in an HMRC tax investigation when he was appointed chancellor. Moreover, when Zahawi joined Liz Truss' and afterwards Rishi Sunak's cabinets, he failed to report that he had previously paid a fine to HMRC.
According to the review, which was overseen by Sir Magnus, Zahawi's actions fell short of what was required of a public official. Currently, he is required to pay a penalty to HMRC in addition to his past-due taxes.
Conservative MPs have questioned Sunak's judgement in dismissing Zahawi, while others believe the prime minister should have fired him sooner given that he acted quickly after getting Magnus's report on Sunday morning. The Labour party, one of the largest opposition groups of Sunak called the government "mired in sleaze" for taking too long to fire Zahawi.
When the public first heard that Zahawi paid a penalty, Michael Portillo, an associate editor of The Telegraph went on the GBN News programme to speak with Camilla Tominey. He stated that the episode constituted a "terrific blow" against the government and that Mr. Sunak had the chance to fire him earlier on January 30.
Portillo believed that his acts made Sunak appear weak. He claims that all week, Rishi must have been "kicking" himself for deciding to send this to an investigation rather than making a decision right immediately.
In his letter of resignation, Zahawi stated that Sunak could count on him from the back benches for full support. He expressed alarm, nevertheless, over recent media behaviour, which he claimed went beyond a proper investigation into his tax troubles. He singled out an Independent article that discussed resignation requests for him from other Conservative MPs.
Zahawi responded in a letter to the prime minister that he planned to continue serving as an MP in the coming years without offering an apology or specifically mentioning the results of the ethics inquiry into his tax troubles.
The day after learning of his HMRC fine, Zahawi released a statement in which he claimed that his taxes were fully paid and up to date, as well as letters from lawyers threatening legal action against reporters who suggested this might not be the case. The public expressed doubt over his statements and it ended up generating more concerns than it did answers
Magnus claimed in his letter to the prime minister that when Truss and Sunak appointed Zahawi to the cabinet, he had not disclosed pertinent facts, specifically the nature of the HMRC inquiry and how it resulted in a fine. The cabinet office was not in a position to inform the appointing prime minister "without knowledge of that information," he continued.
However, sources told the Observer that as the prime minister was putting together his new cabinet, senior officials provided Sunak informal advice about the reputational dangers of hiring Zahawi given the HMRC inquiry. Downing Street vehemently denied receiving a warning regarding Zahawi's financial situation.
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