Rishi Sunak has sacked the Conservative party chair, Nadhim Zahawi, for serious breaches of the ministerial code over his tax affairs, after weeks of damaging headlines undermined the prime minister’s attempts to restore government integrity.
An investigation by Sunak’s new ethics adviser, Sir Laurie Magnus, concluded that Zahawi had broken the rules by repeatedly failing to declare an HMRC investigation into his tax affairs, which concluded with a £5m settlement including a penalty.
Zahawi failed to apologise for his actions, instead turning his fire on the media, which he said had gone beyond legitimate scrutiny of his tax affairs. The ethics adviser, however, criticised him for “untrue” public statements over the HMRC investigation.
In a letter to Zahawi after an early phone call on Sunday, Sunak said his ethics adviser had concluded there was a “serious breach” of the ministerial code. “As a result, I have informed you of my decision to remove you from your position,” he wrote.
Zahawi’s departure – the second cabinet minister to go in Sunak’s first three months in office – comes after a difficult few weeks for the prime minister, who had pledged “integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level” of his government on entering No 10.
His hopes of moving on from the probity row are likely to be short-lived, with an internal inquiry into bullying allegations against his deputy prime minister, Dominic Raab, due to report within weeks.