As the fallout from Nadeem Zahavi’s dismissal continues Sunday morning, there are fresh questions surrounding what Prime Minister Rishi Sunak knew and when.
The Conservative Party chair and Cabinet Office minister was removed from government after being found to have breached the ministerial code on multiple occasions over the disclosure of an ongoing HMRC investigation into his tax affairs.
After a six-day investigation, a report by independent ethics adviser Sir Laurie Magnus was sent to the Prime Minister at 7am on Sunday. At 8.57am, it was publicly announced that Mr Zahawi, whom the prime minister had defended in parliament less than a fortnight earlier, had been sacked.
Sir Laurie said Mr Zahavi’s “delay in correcting an untrue public statement”, denying he was aware of the investigation, was “inconsistent with the requirement of openness” by ministers.
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on Sky News This morning, Health Minister Helen Whatley was asked repeatedly whether the Prime Minister was aware of Mr Zahavi’s investigation before appointing the former vaccine minister as party chairman.
Ms Whatley confirmed Mr Zahavi’s lack of transparency was one of the reasons he was sacked yesterday.
He said: “The Prime Minister was not aware of the issues that had come out”.
He added that the prime minister “is determined to ensure that there is integrity, accountability and professionalism in his government. That is why when things like this [happen] A fair and proper process is followed. So following this situation, … the Prime Minister received the report of Nadeem Zahavi’s behavior and took a very quick and decisive decision to remove him from the government”.
Ms Whatley was also asked whether Mr Zahawi should be removed from the whip. He replied: “Well, he was sacked from the government, a very serious one because he did not adhere to the ministerial code, but he was still elected MP”.
Asked if she was happy with Mr Zahawi “still being a Conservative”, Ms Whatley said: “I’m happy with the decision the Prime Minister has made”.
“Obviously, as determined by the independent ethics adviser, it was very serious what he did — or didn’t do — but I worked alongside him in the Department for Health during the pandemic, I know what a fantastic job he did. [with the vaccine rollout]. … I’m really grateful for making it happen”, he added.
Amid some gasps from Mr Zahavi’s allies that the former party chairman should not have been sacked so soon, Miss Whatley said: ‘[the prime minister] Followed a fair process, Sir Laurie Magnus looked into it, he stated very clearly in his letter what did or did not happen and that was the basis on which the Prime Minister removed Nadeem Zahavi from office.
The report suggests that Mr Zahawi is personally aggrieved by his dismissal and may issue a formal response to the independent ethics adviser’s inquiry.
In the wake of the Zahavi affair, Labor Party chair Anneliese Dodds accused Rishi Sunak of creating a “rogue’s gallery” of ministers after sacking Nadeem Zahavi.
He said BBC Radio 4 The “Today” program said Labor wrote to the prime minister when he learned of the HMRC investigation into the former Conservative Party chairman, adding that the prime minister “needed a spine” and that Mr Zahawi should have been sacked earlier because “the facts were clear”. .
He said: “Rishi Sunak has serious questions to answer. What did he know about Nadeem Zahavi’s investigation, how much he paid in unpaid taxes and the fines he had to pay?”