STRATFORD MP Nadhim Zahawi has been sacked as Conservative Party chairman for a ‘serious breach of the Ministerial Code’ relating to his tax affairs.
It follows an investigation which concluded that Mr Zahawi had not declared that his tax affairs were being investigated by HMRC, after it emerged that he had paid a seven-figure settlement, including a penalty, while he was chancellor.
The Prime Minister’s ethics adviser Sir Laurie Magnus concluded that Mr Zahawi failed to mention an HMRC investigation into his taxes on a declaration of interests form when he became chancellor on July 5 last year.
He only updated the form to acknowledge the investigation after getting a letter from HMRC on July 15.
Sir Laurie identified seven occasions on which Mr Zahawi breached the ministerial code by failing to be open about his tax affairs.
Sir Laurie also found there had been a ‘delay in correcting an untrue public statement’, after Mr Zahawi had said he was not aware that HMRC was looking into him.
In a letter to Mr Zahawi, Rishi Sunak said: “It is clear that there has been a serious breach of the Ministerial Code. As a result, I have informed you of my decision to remove you from your position in His Majesty’s Government.”
He praised Mr Zahawi for his ‘oversight of the Covid-19 vaccine procurement and deployment programme’ and ‘significant restructuring to Conservative Campaign Headquarters’.
Replying, Mr Zahawi told Mr Sunak: “It has been the privilege of my life to serve in successive Governments and make what I believe to have been a tangible difference to the country I love.”
He said he took particular pride in his roles in the vaccine rollout and in the mourning period for Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
He went on to criticise the press, adding: “I am concerned about the conduct from some of the fourth estate in recent weeks. In a week when a Member of Parliament was physically assaulted, I fail to see how one headline on this issue ‘The Noose Tightens’ reflects legitimate scrutiny of public officials. I am sorry to my family for the toll this has taken on them.”
In July last year, Mr Zahawi issued a statement saying stories in the press over his tax affairs were ‘inaccurate, unfair and clearly smears’.
He added: “It’s very sad that such smears should be circulated and sadder still that they have been published.
“These smears have falsely claimed that the Serious Fraud Office, the National Crime Agency, and HMRC are looking into me. Let me be absolutely clear. I am not aware of this. I have not been told that this is the case.
“I’ve always declared my financial interests and paid my taxes in the UK.”
Mr Zahawi did not correct the record until January 21 this year, saying that there had been an error in his tax affairs which had been accepted by HMRC as having been ‘careless and not deliberate’, and that he had reached a settlement with HMRC following an investigation.
He added: “So that I could focus on my life as a public servant, I chose to settle the matter and pay what they said was due, which was the right thing to do.”
Sir Laurie’s report says the ministerial code includes ‘a general duty to be accurate in statements to ensure a false impression is not given or maintained’.