Zahawi: ‘Unsustainable’ to stay amid investigation says Berry
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Nadhim Zahawi has been sacked by Rishi Sunak telling the Tory chairman in a letter that it is “clear that there has been a serious breach of the Ministerial Code”. In his letter, the Prime Minister said the findings of his independent adviser on ministers’ interests Sir Laurie Magnus were conclusive.
The letter said: “When I became Prime Minister last year, I pledged that the Government I lead would have integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level.
“That is why, following new information which came to light in recent days regarding your personal financial arrangements and declarations, I asked Sir Laurie Magnus, the independent adviser on ministers’ interests, to fully investigate this matter. You agreed and undertook to co-operate fully with the inquiry.
“Following the completion of the independent adviser’s investigation – the findings of which he has shared with us both – 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.
“As you leave, you should be extremely proud of your wide-ranging achievements in Government over the last five years.
“In particular, your successful oversight of the Covid-19 vaccine procurement and deployment programme which ensured the United Kingdom was at the forefront of the global response to the coronavirus pandemic.”
The Stratford-on-Avon MP had come under high pressure to quit in a week dominated by the issue.
The row surrounding Mr Zahawi centres on a tax bill over the sale of shares in YouGov – the polling firm he founded – worth an estimated £27 million and which were held by Balshore Investments, a company registered offshore in Gibraltar and linked to Mr Zahawi’s family.
Mr Zahawi has said that HMRC concluded there had been a “careless and not deliberate” error in the way the founders’ shares, which he had allocated to his father, had been treated.
He also insisted he was “confident” he had “acted properly throughout”.
Rishi Sunak had ordered an investigation by Sir Laurie Magnus, his independent adviser on ministers’ interests, into whether Mr Zahawi broke ministerial rules over the bill he settled with HMRC while he was chancellor.
The Prime Minister had said he would wait for Sir Laurie’s report before making any decisions.
Pressure intensified on Thursday when the head of HMRC suggested Mr Zahawi had not made an “innocent error” in his tax affairs.
HMRC chief executive Jim Harra told MPs on the Public Accounts Committee: “I am not commenting on any particular person’s affairs but carelessness is a concept in tax law.
“It can be relevant to how many back years that we can assess and it can be relevant to whether someone is liable to a penalty and if so, what penalty they will be liable to for an error in their tax affairs.
“There are no penalties for innocent errors in your tax affairs.
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“So if you take reasonable care, but nevertheless make a mistake, whilst you will be liable for the tax and for interest if it’s paid late, you would not be liable for a penalty.
“But if your error was as a result of carelessness, then legislation says that a penalty could apply in those circumstances.”
Sir Jake Berry, a former Tory chair who founded the powerful Northern Research Group of Conservative backbenchers in northern England, led calls for Mr Zahawi to step down.
“Even though he’s a friend of mine I’m not going to allow that to distract from a view I’ve put forward consistently in relation to all these sorts of issues.
“The Government needs to find a mechanism for ministers and MPs who are under investigation in this way to step aside to clear their name and then to come back into government if that is appropriate.
“I think from Nadhim, great individual that he is, that would be the right thing to do now.
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“I applaud Rishi Sunak for fast forwarding this investigation that we learned this week will be concluded in around 10 days.
“But I do think it’s unsustainable for a minister to stay in his post while this investigation goes on, including other ministers who are also under investigation.
“Not least because we have learned that when you want the public to have faith and trust in these investigations, one of the key things is for that individual to step away from power because it takes away a perception they have some influence or an ability to alter the investigation because they remain in that position of power.”
Former immigration minister Caroline Nokes and Tory peer Lord Hayward had also called for Mr Zahawi to go.
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