Nadhim Zahawi becomes Mr Fixit for new UK Prime Minister Liz Truss

Iraqi-born businessman takes on 15th century royal post of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

Britain's Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for Intergovernmental Relations and Minister for Equalities Nadhim Zahawi leaves 10 Downing Street after a meeting Britain's new Prime Minister Liz Truss on Tuesday night. AFP
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Nadhim Zahawi’s undulating political career in the British government continues as he moves from the heights of chancellor to Prime Minister Liz Truss's “Mr Fixit”.

For the past two months, the Iraqi-born politician held the purse strings of the economy following Boris Johnson’s resignation announcement.

In that time Mr Zahawi, 55, who briefly stood for leadership election, appears to have been in communication with Ms Truss to lay the foundations for Thursday’s emergency energy announcement that could total £100 million ($115m).

Watching him standing at the front of the crowd of Ms Truss loyalists in the downpours outside Downing Street on Tuesday, it was clear he had been promised a Cabinet post.

A few hours later, it was announced the Baghdad-born Kurd would take up the 15th century post of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

The role means he will act as special project operator for the prime minister with nominated tasks to complete, as well as heading the Cabinet Office.

The list of official jobs for Mr Zahawi published by the government is long and tricky, but potentially suited to a highly capable businessman.

He will lead the government’s digital and data reform, have oversight of the operational response to Covid-19, while overseeing civil contingency planning and cyber security.

In addition, he will review the government’s science, technology, and innovation, military veterans' issues, as well as providing constitutional advice.

His packed brief also includes being Minister for Intergovernmental Relations and Minister for Equalities.

More prosaically, he is now responsible for administering the estates and rents of the Duchy of Lancaster, a title from 500 years ago when the royal family came from Lancashire and owned land there.

Mr Zahawi could not have imagined taking on a role with such deep British historical roots when he arrived in Sussex as an 11-year-old exile who spoke no English.

Former chancellor Nadhim Zahawi waits alongside former Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis and Britain's Defence Secretary Ben Wallace for newly appointed Prime Minister Liz Truss to deliver a speech outside 10 Downing Street on Tuesday. AFP

Born in the year the Baath political party retook power, 1967, Mr Zahawi’s established Kurdish family was threatened by the rise of Saddam Hussein to power in the 1970s.

They fled to Britain, where his father set up business that allowed him to privately educate his son at King's College School in west London. He then graduated from University College London, where he studied chemical engineering.

Mr Zahawi’s breakthrough in business came in setting up the polling company You.Gov that now has 400 employees across three continents.

He sold his shareholding and is now estimated to have a £100m property portfolio as well as founding several business enterprises, including a horse-riding school with his wife.

His business success has been replicated in politics. His competency demonstrated as a junior minister in the education then the business department was rewarded with the critical task of minister in charge of the Covid vaccination programme in 2020.

Resounding success there led to the education secretary role in 2021, followed by chancellor in Mr Johnson’s final two months as prime minister.

“I pinch myself every morning, to wake up to think the 11-year-old who arrived on these shores and couldn’t speak a word of English is now the member for Shakespeare, for the heart of England and the Chancellor of the Exchequer in her majesty’s government,” Mr Zahawi said on taking up the post. “This is the greatest country on Earth.”

Updated: September 07, 2022, 10:00 AM
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