The prime minister’s official spokesman and his senior advisers spent about 35 minutes after PMQs facing questions from the media about Nadhim Zahawi…reports Asian Lite News
Rishi Sunak defended his decision to launch an ethics inquiry into Nadhim Zahawi rather than sacking him, at Prime Minister’s Questions.
Sir Keir Starmer said the PM was “hopelessly weak” for not firing the minister for “seeking to avoid tax”. “Is he starting to wonder if this job is just too big for him?” the Labour leader asked.
Sunak said it was Sir Keir who was weak because “he has no principles just petty politics”.
Downing Street initially said Sunak’s tax arrangements were “confidential” when asked by Labour if he had ever paid a penalty to the UK tax authorities, like Mr Zahawi.
But the PM’s spokesperson later confirmed that he had not, saying: “The prime minister has never paid a penalty to HMRC.” The PM will publish his tax returns “in due course”, Downing Street has said.
In the House of Commons, Sunak said it would have been “politically expedient” to sack Mr Zahawi as a minister before PMQs got under way at noon but he believed in “proper due process”.
That was why, he said, he had asked ask his ethics adviser to investigate whether the Conservative Party chairman had broken ministerial rules.
It will be up to the PM to decide whether to sack Zahawi if his ethics adviser says he has broken the ministerial code. Zahawi was chancellor at the time the estimated £4.8m settlement was agreed with HMRC.
Sir Keir asked Sunak why he had said at last week’s PMQs that Zahawi had “addressed this matter in full”. “Since I commented on this matter last week more information, including a statement from the minister without portfolio [Mr Zahawi], has entered the public domain which is why it’s right that we do establish the facts,” the prime minister said.
He accused Sir Keir of “simple political opportunism” for urging him to appoint an ethics adviser then wanting a decision before they had investigated the case.
And he claimed “the difference between him [Sir Keir] and me is I stand by my values and my principles even when it is difficult,” accusing the Labour leader of indulging in “petty politics”.
Sir Keir said the PM’s “failure” to sack Zahawi showed “how hopelessly weak he is – a prime minister overseeing chaos, overwhelmed at every turn”. “He can’t say when ambulances will get to heart attack victims again. He can’t say when the prisons system will keep streets safe again. He can’t even deal with tax avoiders in his own cabinet,” said the Labour leader.
“Is he starting to wonder if this job is just too big for him?”
The prime minister’s official spokesman and his senior advisers spent about 35 minutes after PMQs facing questions from the media about Nadhim Zahawi.
It became something of an endurance slalom event, his team swerving this way or that to avoid many of the questions.
They wouldn’t tell us whether Rishi Sunak had talked to Zahawi before last week’s PMQs, when the PM said the whole thing was sorted.
We were told the PM has confidence in Zahawi, even though Sunak said it would have been politically expedient to sack him.
To be fair, any serving minister technically has to have the confidence of the prime minister. But the truth is we know that confidence is draining away, if not yet entirely emptied.
And a broader front is opening up – the weaponising of wealth, with Labour and the SNP pointing to the PM’s vast wealth too. However admirably accumulated, for those at the top of politics who are mega rich there is always likely to be political vulnerability around a perception of being detached from the lives of ordinary folk and having concerns and issues over tax, for instance, that seem other-worldly.
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