FIONA Bruce has been accused of defending Tory party chairman Nadhim Zahawi’s tax affairs on Question Time.

After it emerged Zahawi had paid a penalty to HMRC to resolve a multimillion-pound dispute, the matter was up for discussion on the BBC’s Thursday night politics show.

But Bruce provoked a backlash when she was debating Zahawi’s situation with Russian-British political commentator Konstantin Kisin after the boss of HMRC, Jim Harra, said there were no penalties for innocent tax errors.

Kisin said: “The boss of HMRC said today innocent people don’t pay penalties.”

Bruce replied: “Let me just be completely clear; there are no penalties for innocent errors in your tax affairs, that’s what he said.”

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Kisin then said: “So we can conclude from that it wasn’t an innocent error then?”

Bruce hit back with: “He wasn’t specifically talking about Nadhim Zahawi, he was just talking generally.”

Kisin replied: “But Nadhim Zahawi paid a penalty, so it was not an innocent error? Can we agree on that?”

Bruce then simply put her hands in the air said her opinion didn’t count.

The exchange led to accusations she was defending Zahawi, as she didn’t appear to agree with Kisin that he hadn’t made an innocent error.

The Prime Minister has asked new ethics adviser Sir Laurie Magnus to assess whether the former chancellor breached the ministerial code with the HMRC settlement.

Alyson Barnes, the leader of Rossendale Borough Council in Lancashire, said on Twitter she felt Bruce was going to “extraordinary lengths” to defend “her Tory paymasters”.

He full tweet read: “Extraordinary the lengths Fiona Bruce goes to ensure that her Tory paymasters are not criticized on Question Time - the BBC really disappoint me these days.”

Elsewhere on the show, an audience member who was a GP questioned whether the Tory party can be trusted as she listed a number of individuals who had been involved in scandals over the past couple of years.

She said to former Tory party chairman Jake Berry: “We’ve had so many incidents from Matt Hancock to Boris Johnson to now Nadhim Zahawi and lots of others. I just really struggle to understand how we can trust the Conservative Party?”

The National: Nadhim Zahawi

Berry also insisted during the show that Zahawi’s position was unsustainable while an investigation was going on.

The BBC has been approached for comment by The National.