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Monday, February 6th, 2023

Nadhim Zahawi under pressure to quit ahead of PMQs as standards watchdog criticises his threats to sue – UK politics live | Politics


Keir Starmer will use his questions at PMQs to try to establish when Rishi Sunak learnt details of Nadhim Zahawi’s tax arrangements, Robert Wright and George Parker write in the Financial Times. They say:

Sir Keir Starmer, Labour leader, will demand answers from Sunak at prime minister’s questions. “The key question to Sunak is: what did he know and when did he know it,” said one Starmer ally.

Sunak told MPs last Wednesday that Zahawi had “already addressed the matter in full and there is nothing more that I can add”, as he attempted to draw a line under the matter.

But three days later Zahawi admitted he had paid a penalty to HM Revenue & Customs, the tax authority, as part of a settlement of about £5mn over unpaid taxes. Sunak’s allies said Zahawi’s statement “came as news to us”.

Starmer will try to establish why Sunak did not know the facts of the affair last week — the story of the tax settlement broke days earlier in the Sun on Sunday — when he told MPs the matter had been addressed “in full”.

Good morning. Rishi Sunak is taking PMQs in about three hours and, as he rehearses how to respond to Keir Starmer’s attack lines, one thing he would appreciate is an interruption from an aide saying that the minister without portfolio in the Cabinet Office (Nadhim Zahawi) is on the line to offer his resignation. If Zahawi were to quit this morning, PMQs would be a lot easier.

That does not mean it will happen. Sunak has said that he wants Zahawi’s fate to be decided by the ethics adviser’s inquiry, and Zahawi has said that he has done nothing wrong and intends to stay in post. But on the Today programme a few minutes ago David Gauke, the former Tory cabinet minister, said it was “hard to see how this doesn’t ultimately end in [Zahawi’s] resignation”. He also said, if Zahawi was still in post at 12pm, PMQs was going to be “very uncomfortable” for the prime minister.

Sunak may have thought that the decision to order an inquiry would close down debate about Zehawi until the findings were in. But that has not happened, and increasingly Zahawi is being criticised, not just for having to pay a penalty to HM Revenue and Customs for not paying tax owed on time, but for threatening journalists with libel action last summer when they started making inquiries. Last night Lord Evans, the chair of the committee on standards in public life, was particularly critical of this in an interview with the BBC’s PM programme. He said:

If you’re trying to close down a legitimate public debate, I don’t think that lives up to the standards Lord Nolan laid down and which the government has committed itself to. Accountability [and] openness are things which the government says that it wants to be characterising its own behaviour, so that I think speaks for itself …

The sort of attempts, apparent legal attempts, to suppress this story … I don’t think that does live up to the sort of standards that the public would rightly expect.

On the Today programme this morning Gauke, a former justice secretary, also criticised Zahawi on this point. He said:

What we now know is that what Nadhim Zahawi was saying in the summer is very hard, if not impossible, to reconcile with the information that he has paid a penalty in respect of his [tax] arrangements …

It appears that he was threatening to sue people for libel for essentially telling the truth, for essentially setting out analysis of what happened that seems to stand up to reality.

Here is the agenda for the day.

10am: Sir Mark Rowley, the Metropolitan police commissioner, takes questions from the London assembly’s police and crime committee about the David Carrick case.

12pm: Rishi Sunak faces Keir Starmer at PMQs.

12pm: Michael Gove, the levelling up secretary, speaks at the Convention of the North conference. Lisa Nandy, his Labour shadow, is speaking at 2.50pm.

2.30pm: Robert Jenrick, the immigration minister, gives evidence to the women and equalities committee about equality in the asylum process.

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