Nadhim Zahawi joins more than 70 Tory MP departures

The Iraq-born Conservative politician said serving as a minister was one of the 'greatest honours of his life'

Former UK chancellor Nadhim Zahawi has announced he will not be seeking re-election. Getty Images
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Nadhim Zahawi, the former chancellor and education secretary, has become the latest Conservative MP to announce he is stepping down at the next general election.

Announcing his decision on X on Thursday, the MP for Stratford-on-Avon said: “Every morning as I shave my head in the mirror, I have to pinch myself. How is it that boy from Baghdad who came to these shores, fleeing persecution and unable to speak a word of English, was able to do as much as I have?”

Mr Zahawi, whose parents fled Baghdad in 1978 when Saddam Hussein rose to power, added: “For all our challenges, this is the best country on Earth, and it helped me make the British dream come true.”

Mr Zahawi, who oversaw the Covid-19 vaccine campaign and was one of the founders of the YouGov polling agency, added: “It was where I built a Great British business, YouGov, and it was where I raised my wonderful family.

“And it was the nation to which I was proud to return such a favour when I led the world-leading coronavirus vaccination rollout.”

Mr Zahawi was education secretary from September 2021 to July 2022 and had a short stint as chancellor of the exchequer between July and September 2022.

Last year, Rishi Sunak sacked Mr Zahawi as Tory party chairman after an ethics inquiry found he had broken the Ministerial Code several times over his tax affairs.

One of parliament's richest MPs, Mr Zahawi is estimated to have a £100 million property portfolio and has founded several business enterprises, including a horse-riding school with his wife.

In 2013, amid the expenses scandal, he was found to have wrongly claimed for electricity at his stables. He said he was “mortified” over his “genuine mistake” and repaid part of the almost £6,000 energy bill.

Stepping down

Mr Zahawi is among 71 MPs who were elected as Conservatives in 2019 to announce they are not seeking re-election – the most from the party to leave Parliament since 1997.

They include Armed Forces Minister James Heappey, former prime minister Theresa May and former Conservative Party chairman Brandon Lewis.

Former ministers Harriet Harman, Margaret Hodge and current deputy speaker Rosie Winterton are among the Labour MPs to announce they are stepping down.

Two Conservatives who recently defected to the Labour Party, Dan Poulter and Natalie Elphicke, also confirmed they would stand down at the election.

Those from other parties include Ian Blackford, former leader of the Scottish National Party in Westminster.

A total of 104 MPs are stepping down, surpassing the average of 85 who stood down at elections between 1979 and 2019.

The largest number recorded in recent history was in 2010, when 149 MPs stepped down, 100 of whom were Labour party members.

A UK election must be held by January 2025 but can take place earlier.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said it is his “working assumption” that the election will be held in the second half of this year.

Early years

Born in Iraq in 1967, in the year the Baath political party retook power, Mr Zahawi came from a relatively prominent Kurdish family whose influence – and later safety – was threatened by the rise of Saddam Hussein in the 1970s.

Mr Zahawi’s grandfather had been the governor of the Central Bank of Iraq, his signature appearing on the country's banknotes, but the Zahawis’ sway eventually drew the ire of the ruling elite.

When Mr Zahawi's father, a businessman, was tipped off that the secret police loyal to Saddam Hussein, then the deputy leader of Iraq, were coming for him, he fled.

Telling his colleagues he was going on a trip to the north of the country, he instead packed his bags for Baghdad Airport.

Mr Zahawi has previously reflected on the “traumatic” moment when he watched the plane in which his father was travelling prepare to take off, only for a military vehicle to approach the aircraft.

Nadhim Zahawi – in pictures

He said his mother was in tears and the family were terrified that the army was going to escort his father off the plane. Iraqi authorities instead took the man sitting behind his father and by the time the secret police had raided their home, Mr Zahawi’s father had departed.

The harrowing experience is one the former chancellor says is “stamped on his memory”.

From Baghdad to Sussex

Once settled, Mr Zahawi’s father sent for his wife and children and in 1978, 11-year-old Nadhim arrived without speaking a word of English.

The family lived in Sussex and Mr Zahawi was privately educated at King's College School in west London and later graduated from University College London, where he studied chemical engineering.

He has described his difficulty adapting to life in Britain, especially his struggles with the English language and bullies at school, but the young Nadhim kept himself occupied with football, studying maths and science, and horse riding.

As he was about to start university, however, the family’s fortunes turned dramatically when a business venture fell through and his father “lost everything” except for his brown Vauxhall car.

With the family’s one remaining asset, the school-leaver was about to take a job as a taxi driver when his mother insisted he continue his education and pawned her gold jewellery to pay for it.

Updated: May 09, 2024, 11:45 AM