Sunak distances himself from Tory chair as Starmer taunts 'weak' PM … – The Independent

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PM’s handling of Zahawi’s multimillion-pound settlement with HMRC under spotlight
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Rishi Sunak has attempted to distance himself from the furore around Nadhim Zahawi’s tax affairs, with No 10 unable to say whether the PM was confident no more damaging surprises would emerge.
The prime minister’s press secretary said: “I don’t think any of us can predict what may come up but I think he’s confident now he’s put the right process in place and the independent adviser is looking into it.”
It comes after Keir Starmer today accused Mr Sunak of being “hopelessly weak” for failing to sack Nadhim Zahawi as the two leaders clashed at PMQs over the Tory chairman’s controversial tax settlement with HMRC.
The Labour leader accused Mr Sunak, who this week ordered his ethics adviser to investigate Mr Zahawi’s tax affairs, of “overseeing chaos”, saying it was “fairly obvious” that the former chancellor should step aside.
The prime minister rebuffed Mr Starmer’s questions on the saga, saying it occurred before he was PM. Former chancellor Mr Zahawi did not appear to be present in the Commons as the two leaders met.
No 10 declined to say whether the prime minister was disappointed with Nadhim Zahawi, if he had not revealed originally the full details of his tax affairs.
Mr Sunak’s press secretary said: “I am not going to comment on the PM’s emotional state.”
“A lot of what we understand is via media reports, and some of it quite speculative, that is why it is right that the independent adviser establishes the facts before any further action is taken.”
Good morning and welcome to The Independent’s live politics coverage.
We’ll be bringing you updates throughout the day as Nadhim Zahawi faces pressure to resign over a row about his tax arrangement.
Stay tuned for all the latest news and PMQs at midday.
An Iraqi refugee who arrived in Britain aged nine with no English rose to No 11 Downing Street and propped up Boris Johnson’s ailing administration last summer, only to be hit by a tax scandal himself, my colleague Joe Sommerlad reports.
Read the full article here:
Iraqi refugee who arrived in Britain aged nine with no English rose to No 11 Downing Street and propped up Boris Johnson’s ailing administration last summer, only to be hit by a tax scandal himself
Almost two in three Britons want Conservative chairman Nadhim Zahawi to set out how much it took to settle his tax dispute with HMRC, a poll for The Independent has found.
Some 64 per cent of people – including 61 per cent of Tory voters – say Mr Zahawi should reveal exactly how much he handed over, according to the Savanta ComRes survey.
Our politics correspondent Adam Forrest reports:
All the unresolved issues, as Tory chairman comes under intense pressure to quit
Is Rishi Sunak about to dump Nadhim Zahawi? The prime minister is facing a backlash from his own MPs over the decision to keep the Tory chairman in the cabinet despite ordering an investigation into his tax affairs.
No 10 appears to be hardening its line on the embattled former chancellor after new details of the tax scandal emerged.
Just a week ago the PM was defending Mr Zahawi in the Commons. But as pressure on Mr Sunak mounts, Downing Street declined to say he was confident Mr Zahawi had always been honest about his finances.
Kate Devlin, politics editor and Adam Forrest, politics correspondent, report:
No 10 hardens line on embattled Tory chairman after new details of tax scandal emerged
The first two PMQs sessions of 2023 have largely followed the same pattern: Starmer attacking Sunak on public sector strikes and the state of the NHS and the PM hitting back by claiming that the Labour leader is opposed to the government’s anti-strike legislation because he’s in the pocket of unions.
Many of those disputes remain unresolved and with more walkouts planned in the weeks ahead, there is every chance Sunak could be tackled on industrial action by Starmer once again when the pair appear before MPs in the Commons later for round three.
But today’s exchanges in the chamber will almost certainly take on a different feel after the Labour leader was gifted additional ammunition in the form of a scandal over the tax affairs of Tory Party chairman Nadhim Zahawi, which shows absolutely no signs of dying down first thing Wednesday morning.
Read more here:
Sunak and Starmer to face off at crunch PMQs and new ONS figures show government borrowing at record high, writes Matt Mathers
Rishi Sunak was not informed about Nadhim Zahawi’s tax dispute when he appointed him to the cabinet because Whitehall officials weren’t aware of it, it has been claimed.
Mr Zahawi, the cabinet minister without portfolio, was cleared by Whitehall officials for the Tory chairman role under Mr Sunak after he became prime minister.
But according to The Times, neither he nor Liz Truss – his predecessor – were informed about Mr Zahawi’s dispute with HMRC.
Mr Zahawi served as Liz Truss’s equalities minister during Ms Truss’s short stint in No 10 Downing Street. He briefly served as chancellor in the dying days of Boris Johnson’s government.
One government source suggested to The Times that Simon Case, the cabinet secretary, should have briefed both Mr Sunak and Ms Truss about the potential liability of keeping Zahawi in the cabinet.
But another said: “They didn’t know about the fine because HMRC didn’t tell them.”
The influential Tory peer Lord Hayward said Mr Zahawi “should be considering whether he stands aside for the period of the inquiry” – warning that the saga could help “flatline” Tory popularity ahead of the local elections, Adam Forrest, our politics correspondent reports.
Lord Hayward, a Tory polling expert, told Sky News: “I think there is a difficulty where you are party chairman because you’re supposed to be out there motivating the campaigners in preparations for key local elections.”

Former Tory minister David Gauke told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme it was “hard to see how this doesn’t ultimately end in [Mr Zahawi’s] resignation”, Adam Forrest, our politics correspondent, reports.
He said it would be a “very uncomfortable” PMQs for Mr Sunak if he was still in post at 12pm.
It is widely expected that Labour leader Keir Starmer will use at least some of his questions during PMQs to tackle Sunak on the issue.
More senior Conservative figures have called on Nadhim Zahawi to resign his role as party chair amid the ongoing controversy over his tax settlement with the HMRC.
The prime minister, who has ordered his ethics adviser to investigate whether Mr Zahawi broke ministerial rules, is also under pressure to act, having admitted there are “questions that need answering”.
Who has called on Mr Zahawi to quit? Our politics correspondent Adam Forrest reports:
Chairman could hurt party’s chances at local elections, warns top peer
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