Rishi Sunak Insists He's Following "Proper Due Process" As Pressure Grows To Sack Nadhim Zahawi
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaking at PMQs today (Alamy)
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said he believes in “proper due process” in handling questions over Nadhim Zahawi’s tax affairs, as he faces growing pressure to sack the party chair from his Cabinet role.
Zahawi has faced calls to resign following the revelations that he had recently paid a settlement to HMRC, relating to his role in founding the polling firm YouGov prior to becoming an MP.
A number of Conservative figures, including several MPs, are among those questioning his position as party chair.
Asked about the issues at Prime Minister's Questions, Sunak told Keir Starmer that "the issues in question occurred before I was Prime Minister" and that "no issues were raised with me when he was appointed to his current role".
On Monday, Sunak ordered an investigation into Zahawi's tax affairs which will be led by Sir Laurie Magnus, who was appointed as the Prime Minister's Independent Adviser on Ministers' Interests in December.
Starmer suggested that the Prime Minister had "avoided" the "obvious" question over how a person who "seeks to avoid tax can also be in charge of tax".
The Labour leader added: "Last week, the Prime Minister told this House that the chair of the Tory party had addressed his tax affairs in full. This week after days of public pressure, the Prime Minister now says there are serious questions to answer."
Sunak stood by his defence of Zahawi's tax affairs at last week's PMQs when Starmer asked him "what changed" that meant he now had enough cause to launch the investigation.
"Since I commented on this matter last week, more information including a statement by the minister without portfolio has entered the public domain, which is why it's right that we do establish the facts," Sunak explained.
"Of course, the politically expedient thing to do would be for me to have said that this matter must have been resolved by Wednesday at noon.
"But I believe in proper due process. That's why I appointed an independent adviser, and that's why the independent adviser is doing his job."
This morning, Tory peer Lord Hayward told Sky News that he thinks Zahawi “should be considering whether he stands aside for the period of the inquiry".
He suggested that Zahawi's position is difficult as attention will soon begin to turn to May’s local elections, on which the party chair takes a prominent role in campaigning.
Lord Hayward added: “If you were another cabinet minister, it may be somewhat easier to continue, but I think that is the problem for him and he may have to review his position, depending on the timescales.”
Starmer opened today's PMQs session by raising the case of Zara Aleena, who was killed by Jordan McSweeney in June 2022, nine days after his release from prison on licence.
Starmer paid tribute to "brilliant" trainee lawyer Aleena, and asked if Sunak accepted findings from an inspectorate that "opportunities were missed by the probation service that could have prevented this attack and saved her life".
Sunak said that "immediate steps are being taken to address the serious issues raised" by the case.
He added: "This was a truly terrible crime."
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