Nadhim Zahawi launched an extraordinary attack on the press yesterday following media reports that ended his career in frontline politics.
In an unrepentant letter to Rishi Sunak who fired him yesterday morning, the conservative former president made no reference to the tax row that led to his sacking and offered no apologies for his conduct.
Mr Sunak is now on the hunt for a ‘squeaky clean’ candidate for the Conservative party chairmanship and last night struggled to find an immediate replacement for the job, which is essential as the general election approaches planned for next year.
Showing no contrition at his behaviour, Mr Zahawi instead claimed yesterday that he was ‘concerned’ about the conduct of sections of the press which had investigated his tax affairs – and implied coverage could lead to threats against deputies or his family.
Unrepentant: Nadhim Zahawi and his wife Lana
In an unrepentant letter to Rishi Sunak who fired him yesterday morning, former conservative president Nadhim Zahawi made no reference to the tax row that led to his sacking and offered no apologies for his conduct.
Rishi Sunak (pictured) is now on the hunt for a ‘super clean’ candidate for Conservative party chairman
Mr Zahawi, who is said to have paid a £1m fine as part of a £5m settlement with HMRC, had previously threatened legal action against journalists trying to investigate the tax probe .
The Prime Minister sacked the former vaccines minister for ‘serious breach of cabinet code’ less than two hours after receiving a report from chief ethics officer Sir Laurie Magnus.
Mr. Zahawi was criticized in the report for his lack of candor in his statements to the press regarding his tax affairs.
On July 10 last year, after being investigated by HMRC for more than 12 months, he dismissed reports from the inquiry, saying: ‘It is very sad that such smears aired and even sadder that they were published.”
Sir Laurie said Mr Zahawi ‘should have understood’ that he was being investigated by HMRC, who had had face-to-face interviews with him the year before, and that it was ‘ serious business”.
Two ministers told the Mail that former Tory leader William Hague (pictured) was among the possible candidates for Conservative party chairman
Allies of Mr Sunak have rejected a suggestion from Jacob Rees-Mogg that Boris Johnson (pictured) could take the job
He added that the then Chancellor’s rejection of the reports failed to respect ministers’ duty to be “as open as possible with Parliament and the public”.
But in his letter to Mr Sunak yesterday, Mr Zahawi wrote: ‘I am concerned about the conduct of part of the Fourth Estate.
In an apparent reference to a recent alleged assault on former Health Secretary Matt Hancock on the London Underground, he added: “In one week when an MP has been physically attacked, I don’t see how a headline on this issue, “The Noose Tightens”, reflects a legitimate scrutiny of public officials. I feel sorry for my family for the toll this has taken on them.
In a letter to Mr Zahawi, Rishi Sunak said the outgoing conservative president had committed “a serious violation of the ministerial code”.
Last night two ministers told the Mail that former Tory leader William Hague was among the possible candidates for the job.
One said: ‘If the Prime Minister could persuade Hague to do that, that would be fantastic. He is extremely popular with the party in the country and is someone who could clearly and forcefully articulate the government’s message.
No 10 hinted the search could take some time and said the Prime Minister had yet to “ring the bell [anyone] out’, including Lord Hague, who is a close ally of the Prime Minister and was invited to attend the Cabinet’s ‘day out’ last week at Checkers.
For the time being, Mr Zahawi’s duties will temporarily pass to Conservative party chief executive Stephen Massey.
Mr Sunak’s allies have rejected a suggestion from Jacob Rees-Mogg that Boris Johnson could take the job.
Mr Rees-Mogg told GB News yesterday that Mr Johnson ‘has all the right attributes for a party chairman’. But Mr Rees-Mogg admitted the Prime Minister and his predecessor were ‘not the closest political allies’.
Grant Shapps, Andrew Mitchell and Penny Mordaunt reportedly “auditioned for the role” on Checkers away day last week. But neither Mr Shapps nor Mr Mitchell would be interested in the job, and Miss Mordaunt is not politically close to Mr Sunak.
Robert Jenrick and Therese Coffey were among the names announced last night.
Mr Sunak received the report from Sir Laurie at 7am yesterday while at his home in North Yorkshire. Two hours later, Mr. Zahawi was sacked during a brief telephone conversation. Sir Laurie discovered Mr Zahawi had breached the Ministerial Code seven times, saying he should have said he was being investigated by the tax authorities and fined.
The seven breaches that sealed the fate of Nadhim Zahawi
Nadhim Zahawi was sacked from government by the prime minister after being found guilty of committing a ‘serious breach’ of ministerial rules
- The former Conservative chairman held face-to-face talks with HM Revenue and Customs in June 2021 – two months after the tax authorities launched an investigation into his affairs. Ethics chief Sir Laurie Magnus said Nadhim Zahawi “should have understood” he was being investigated.
- Mr Zahawi did not say he was under tax investigation when he was promoted to Education Secretary in September 2021 despite ‘specific prompts on tax matters and HMRC investigations and disputes ” on the relevant forms.
- The former vaccines minister was appointed chancellor on July 5 last year, putting him in charge of Britain’s tax system. But – again – he did not reveal that he was the subject of an ongoing tax investigation.
- Five days later, Mr Zahawi claimed media reports of an investigation into his tax affairs were “libel”. He only corrected the record on January 21 this year – a failure which Sir Laurie said was ‘inconsistent with the openness requirement’.
- Mr Zahawi reached an “agreement in principle” with HMRC in August and settled with the tax authorities in September. However, the then Chancellor did not reveal the nature of the investigation or the fact that he was fined.
- In September he was appointed Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster but did not announce the outcome of the inquiry to the authorities.
- Mr. Zahawi became party chairman in October. Once again, he did not inform the authorities of the result of the investigation.