Rishi Sunak’s Delayed Sacking of Nadhim Zahawi Only Confirms his Weakness
The Prime Minister's sacking of Zahawi for breaking the ministerial code, while reinstating Suella Braverman just days after doing the same, shows exactly where his principles really lie.
Eleven days after telling MPs that the allegations against him had been dealt with “in full” and days after insisting he still had full “confidence” in him as a minister, Rishi Sunak has finally sacked Nadhim Zahawi.
In his letter to the former Conservative Chairman, Sunak told him that he had committed a “serious breach of the Ministerial Code” by failing to declare the tax avoidance allegations and penalty imposed against him by HMRC.
However, Sunak’s delayed action only raises more questions than it answers.
Firstly, the allegations against Zahawi were not new. The substance of the allegations had been public knowledge for some months, and claims about Zahawi’s wider business dealings were well known within Westminster.
Indeed, according to some reports, Sunak was personally warned by officials about the risk of appointing him.
That he chose to appoint him anyway, suggests that his newfound “principled” opposition to such behaviour is not quite what it seems.
Supporters of Sunak have also suggested that his decision to sack Zahawi is confirmation of his pledge to restore integrity and “accountability” to Government.
However, if breaking the ministerial code is now a sacking offence under his Government, then he now needs to explain why he choose to reinstate Suella Braverman as Home Secretary just days after she was also found to have broken it.
The reality is that in both cases Sunak’s decision had less to do with the strength of his political principles than it did with the weakness of his own political position.
In appointing both Zahawi and Braverman, despite the allegations against them, Sunak took a political decision that maintaining standards in public life was less important than securing internal party political advantage.
His belated decision to sack Zahawi is no different. As long as it was politically expedient to keep Zahawi within his Cabinet, Sunak was happy to turn a blind eye to the allegations against him.
Once the political damage of keeping him in post became too great, the Prime Minister suddenly rediscovered the commitment to “integrity” and “accountability” that he was previously so happy to forget.
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