Nadhim Zahawi standing down as a Conservative MP ahead of the election would be the “best outcome” after his sacking over rule breaches, a senior Tory figure has said.
Rishi Sunak fired Mr Zahawi after his ethics adviser found “serious” violations of the ministerial code over his tax affairs, more than six months after The Independent revealed an HMRC investigation.
Senior Tory MP Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown – treasurer of the party’s powerful 1922 committee – said Mr Zahawi should now consider resigning his Stratford-Upon-Avon seat.
“I’m seriously unhappy with the way he’s handled it,” Sir Geoffrey told BBC 5 Live. “He knew perfectly well he had paid a [tax] penalty.
“At that point he should have either said to the prime minister, ‘Look this has happened – you should know this before you appoint me’. Or at least when [the penalty] got into the public domain … he should have resigned immediately.”
Pressed on whether he was worthy of being an MP, Mr Clifton-Brown said: “Personally, I think someone who has committed a serious offence like this would have to consider their position very carefully.”
Sir Geoffrey added: “I think the best outcome to this would be if Nadhim said he didn’t want to stand. I’m sure he will be considering very carefully what his future in politics is in the next few weeks.”
The Liberal Democrats have also called on Mr Zahawi to quit as an MP, saying he was “unfit to serve the people of Stratford-on-Avon”, while Labour party chair Anneliese Dodds said the Tory MP “needs to think about his future”.
The Lib Dems have also written to Mr Sunak calling on him to withdraw the Conservative whip from Mr Zahawi, and called for inquiry into legal threats made by the ex-chancellor.
Deputy leader Daisy Cooper said he had “threatened campaigners and journalists with legal action simply for trying to uncover the truth”, adding: “Rishi Sunak surely has no choice but to withdraw the Conservative whip.”
But Sir Geoffrey did not think it was necessary to suspend Mr Zahawi. “He’s paid the ultimate penalty. The question is much more important as to whether he continues as MP after the next election, and I think the electorate will have a say on that.”
Former Brexit secretary David Davis told Channel 4 that the chances of Mr Zahawi returning to the cabinet were “vanishingly small”, adding that it would be “quite difficult for him” to keep his Stratford-on-Avon seat despite a majority of almost 20,000.
Sir Laurie’s four-page report said the technical details of the HMRC investigation were outside his scope. Among the findings, he notes “omissions” from Mr Zahawi that amount to a “serious failure” to meet the standards of the ministerial code.
By failing to declare the tax issue before Boris Johnson made him chancellor in July 2022, Mr Zahawi had failed to declare interests “which might be thought to give rise to a conflict”, said the report.
The ethics adviser also told the prime minister that Mr Zahawi had “failed to disclose relevant information” on the tax investigation when he was appointed Cabinet Office minister by Liz Truss in September and Tory chair by Mr Sunak in October.
Sir Laurie also accused him of making an “untrue public statement” about the investigation last summer. Mr Zahawi initially dismissed our story as a “smear”, claimed he was “not aware” of the HMRC investigation, and threatened The Independent and others with legal action.
But last Saturday, the minister admitted that HMRC had found he had made an “error” that he claimed was “careless and not deliberate”. It emerged he had paid a £1m penalty as part of an estimated £5m tax settlement with HMRC in September.