Nadhim Zahawi is ‘dead man walking’ as tax row continues to rumble on, Tory MPs say

nadhim zahawi is ‘dead man walking’ as tax row continues to rumble on, tory mps say

Nadhim Zahawi, the Conservative Party Chair, is under pressure to resign (Photo: Victoria Jones/PA)

Nadhim Zahawi is a “dead man walking” and risks damaging Rishi Sunak, Conservative MPs have warned as the Tory party chairman’s future hangs in the balance.

The minister is popular with most colleagues and seen as an effective operator in media rounds and behind the scenes. But a growing number of Conservatives believe his presence in the Cabinet is now undermining the Prime Minister.

Mr Sunak has faced taunts from Labour MPs who accuse him of being too weak to stand up to his own party after a series of policy confrontations with backbenchers, while he has allowed controversial ministers such as Suella Braverman to keep their jobs.

One former minister insisted he had to sack Mr Zahawi or risk a repeat of the claims. They told i: “He’s a dead man walking and the PM looks weak. His claims for integrity went out of the window when he reappointed the Home Secretary. He needs to act decisively now or he will start to lose all his credit with MPs.”

Another MP, a supporter of Boris Johnson, added: “I think he will be gone very soon.” And ex-Cabinet minister Caroline Nokes became the first serving Tory MP to call publicly on Mr Zahawi to quit, telling TalkTV: “When you become the story, it’s a distraction from anything else the Government’s trying to do.

“There are countless examples of good, competent Cabinet colleagues who got themselves in a mess, who have resigned and in some instances returned just a few months later, and I think in order to get this cleared up, Nadhim should stand aside and let the investigation run its course.”

Some Tories remain supportive of the chairman – one minister said he was “very capable” and would help the Conservative Party prepare for the next general election. But even some of those sympathetic to him believe he may eventually be forced out.

A senior backbencher said: “He’s a very good bloke and I rate him highly. The story has become problematic because what is being missed is that HMRC is a non-ministerial department, so no one from the King down can influence it. Also, tax affairs are still private.

“But I do see the problem. Perception is not the same as fact and ministers can be felled by people thinking they have broken the rules, even if they have not. So I think he should stay, but I’m not sure he can.”

Sir Gavin Williamson is the only MP to have resigned from Mr Sunak’s Cabinet since he took power in October. Other ministers such as Ms Braverman and Dominic Raab have been under pressure but have held on to their jobs up till now.

The Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer is set to grill Mr Sunak over how much he knew about Mr Zahawi’s finances at Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on Wednesday.

The Leader of the Opposition is understood to have prepared a series of questions on when the Prime Minister knew his party chairman had had a tax dispute with HMRC, and what he was told about the row before appointing him to the Cabinet and publicly backing him.

Mr Sunak has suggested he did not know Mr Zahawi had paid a penalty for making a mistake on his taxes until it was reported in the media earlier this month. He has also said the Cabinet Office did not raise any concerns when he proposed appointing the minister to his current job.

Some Conservative MPs believe Mr Zahawi could be forced to resign on Wednesday morning to shield the Prime Minister from awkward questions in Parliament, but Labour sources suggest Sir Keir will still push Mr Sunak on the issue and claim there are unanswered questions about his own involvement in the case.

Previous ministerial scandals have sometimes been brought to a head at PMQs as the premier of the day struggles to defend their colleague and ends up concluding it would be simpler to remove them from office.

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