Rishi Sunak brushes aside questions about former chancellor Nadhim Zahawi's tax affairs

UK Prime Minister says it was right to investigate the matter

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons on Wednesday. PA
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UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak took questions from the leader of the opposition about former chancellor Nadhim Zahawi’s tax affairs, refusing to be drawn on his conduct.

Mr Sunak was facing MPs at Prime Minister's Questions, days after launching an investigation into Mr Zahawi’s tax bill.

Seizing on the fallout from the multimillion-pound settlement with HM Revenue and Customs over unpaid tax — at a time when Mr Zahawi was chancellor — Labour leader Keir Starmer asked the Prime Minister whether politicians who seek to avoid tax should be in charge of taxpayers’ money.

Mr Sunak replied: “I am pleased to make my position on this matter completely clear to the House. The issues in question occurred before I was Prime Minister.

“With regard to the appointment of the minister without portfolio, the usual appointments process was followed, no issues were raised with me when he was appointed to his current role, and since I commented on this matter last week, more information has come forward.

“That is why I have asked the independent adviser to look into the matter.

“I obviously can't prejudge the outcome of that but it is right that we fully investigate this matter and establish all the facts.”

In a veiled reference to Mr Sunak’s wife’s previous non-domicile status, Mr Starmer said: “We all know why the Prime Minister was reluctant to ask his party chair questions about family finances and tax avoidance, (to loud laughter).

“But his failure to sack him, when the whole country could see what was going on shows how hopelessly weak he is.”

Mr Sunak said last week that Mr Zahawi had “already addressed the matter in full”.

“Of course the politically expedient thing to do would be for me to have said this matter must be resolved by Wednesday at noon, but I believe in proper due process,” he said.

Mr Zahawi, the Tory chairman, is a minister without portfolio in Mr Sunak’s cabinet.

Mr Sunak ordered his ethics adviser to investigate whether Mr Zahawi broke ministerial rules over the estimated £4.8 million bill he settled with HMRC.

Earlier this week, cracks began to appear in Mr Zahawi's support within his party over the investigation into his tax affairs.

Senior Tory MP Caroline Nokes, chairwoman of the Commons Women and Equalities Committee, broke ranks to call for him to “temporarily recuse himself” from his party and cabinet role until the investigation was over.

Ms Nokes said Mr Zahawi should “stand aside until this matter is all cleared up”.

Updated: January 25, 2023, 1:16 PM