Sunak stresses commitment to integrity and says he acted ‘decisively’ in sacking Nadhim Zahawi
ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston reports on the prime minister's vow to restore 'integrity' to politics
Rishi Sunak said “integrity is really important to me” as he defended his decision to sack Nadhim Zahawi following a row over his tax affairs.
The prime minister insisted he acted "pretty decisively" after an ethics inquiry was launched into the former Tory Party chairman, which found he had committed a “serious breach” in the handling of his tax affairs.
The prime minister’s independent adviser on ministers’ interests, Sir Laurie Magnus, rapidly concluded his investigation after serious questions emerged for the former chancellor, whose multi-million-pound settlement with HM Revenue & Customs included paying a penalty.
ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston asked the PM: 'Why are so many people at the top of your party finding it so difficult to follow the rules?'
In response to the question from Peston, Mr Sunak said: "The things that happened before I was prime minister, I can't do anything about.
"What I think you can hold me to account for is how I deal with things that arise on my watch and as you've seen when it came to Nadhim Zahawi, I asked the independent advisor to look at it right away and acted on his findings straight away."
Speaking in County Durham on Monday, the PM added: “What I have done is follow a process, which is the right process. “Integrity is really important to me – all of you guys want to see that government is run properly, that it is run with integrity and there’s accountability when people don’t behave in the way that they should or if something doesn’t go right, and that’s what we’ve done.”
“What I asked, when all these questions starting coming to light about Nadhim Zahawi, I asked the independent adviser to get to the bottom of it and provide me with the facts," the prime minister added.
Rishi Sunak said he was able to make a quick decision about Mr Zahawi staying on as a minister
On the basis of those facts “I was able to make a very quick decision that it was no longer appropriate for Nadhim Zahawi to continue in government”. Mr Sunak continued: “It relates to things that happened well before I was prime minister, so unfortunately I can’t change what happened in the past. “What you can hold me accountable for is: what did you do about it? What I did, as soon as I knew about the situation, was appoint someone independent, looked at it, got the advice and then acted pretty decisively.”
Supporters of the prime minister welcomed the decision to sack Mr Zahawi, as well as his decision to allow “due process” to take effect.
But allies of Mr Zahawi claimed the MP had lost his job after being given only limited time to make his case, with the Telegraph citing claims suggesting he was only given a 30-minute meeting with the independent adviser to defend himself.
The Stratford-on-Avon MP did not comment explicitly on the row in his letter to the Prime Minister following his sacking, instead taking aim at the media as he complained “about the conduct from some of the fourth estate in recent weeks”.
For Mr Sunak, who came to office promising “integrity”, the row continues to raise questions.
Both Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner and party chairwoman Anneliese Dodds have written to Mr Sunak to ask him what he knew about the investigation into Mr Zahawi’s tax affairs and when.
Urging the prime minister to “come clean”, Ms Rayner said that the “hopelessly weak prime minister has been dragged kicking and screaming into doing what he should have done long ago”.
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Meanwhile, deputy prime minister Dominic Raab remains under investigation by senior lawyer Adam Tolley KC over bullying complaints. He has denied all allegations.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman was reinstated in that post after being found to have breached the ministerial code by sending a draft ministerial statement to a backbench MP through a private email address. But Mr Sunak insisted he will take “whatever steps are necessary to restore the integrity back into politics, and you can have confidence that the process works”.
Former Conservative chancellor George Osborne warned that Mr Sunak needed to “do something pretty quickly” to rescue his premiership from the kinds of scandals that dogged his predecessor Boris Johnson.
Sir Laurie’s report found Mr Zahawi had shown “insufficient regard for the general principles of the Ministerial Code and the requirements in particular, under the seven Principles of Public Life, to be honest, open and an exemplary leader through his own behaviour”.
Among the findings, he noted “omissions” from Mr Zahawi that amount to a “serious failure” to meet the standards of the Ministerial Code.
He said: “In the appointments process for the governments formed in September 2022 and October 2022, Mr Zahawi failed to disclose relevant information – in this case the nature of the investigation and its outcome in a penalty – at the time of his appointment, including to Cabinet Office officials who support that process.
Stephen Massey, the party’s chief executive, has stepped in as interim chair until Mr Sunak chooses a successor.
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