RISHI Sunak announced last week that he would ask his independent ethics adviser to look into Nadhim Zahawi’s tax affairs. It’s the go-to move for Tory prime ministers who have to tried to brazen out a scandal and failed.

Up until that point, Sunak was reported to be “satisfied” with Zahawi’s explanation of the circumstances around the millions he was forced to pay to HMRC.

Then yesterday, slap bang in the middle of the morning politics programmes, we learnt Sunak had decided to sack the Conservative Party chairman.

In a letter to Zahawi, published on Twitter, the Prime Minister said it was clear there had been a “serious breach of the ministerial code” after his ethics adviser, Sir Laurie Magnus, concluded Zahawi “has not fulfilled the requirements of being an honest, open and exemplary leader”.
The National: Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi had been supported by Brandon Lewis

This feels familiar, doesn’t it?

Sunak has adopted the same strategy as Boris Johnson when dealing with scandal – and it seems to be working about as well for him as it did for his predecessor.

It’s only when all attempts at denial and deflection have failed that they are forced to act in the best interests of the country, rather than their party.

In the middle of a cost of living crisis that is causing misery for millions, the Prime Minister couldn’t see why backing Zahawi wasn’t the right thing to do.

Both Labour and the SNP had called for Zahawi to be sacked. The facts of the case were laid out on excruciating detail across the national newspapers. Yet it took an ethics adviser spelling it out in black and white for Sunak to arrive at the same conclusion as everybody else.

It was always going to end this way and it is only because of Sunak’s weakness as a leader that it took so long.

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This is a Tory Party that is rotten and crumbling after years of failing to take action on sleaze. Their instinctive reaction is always to shield their colleagues against allegations of wrongdoing and they only shift from that position when all other avenues have been exhausted.

It was frankly laughable to see Sunak repeat his pledge about ‘’integrity’’ in his letter sacking Zahawi. “When I became Prime Minister last year, I pledged the government I lead would have integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level,’’ he said.

Does anybody seriously believe that? I doubt even Sunak does.

The Prime Minister’s definition of integrity seems to be different from everybody else’s. Under his definition, it’s OK to turn a blind eye to misconduct for as long as it is politically convenient.

Political leaders can’t have it both ways. They can’t defend the indefensible and then retrospectively claim a position of moral authority when they are forced to act on wrongdoing.

This isn’t what a government of “integrity, professionalism and accountability” looks like.

SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn was bang on the money when he described them as a “parcel of rogues” at Prime Minister’s Questions last week.


Dominic Raab is being investigated over dozens of complaints about his behaviour – complaints which span departments and a number of years. Yet Sunak is content to keep him in Cabinet and allow him to continue as Deputy Prime Minister.

Suella Braverman was sacked by Liz Truss for breaking the ministerial code, only to be re-appointed as Home Secretary by Rishi Sunak less than a week later.

Then there’s Boris Johnson, a man so accomplished at dodgy dealings that he is still managing to generate headlines.

This time, it’s the curious case of Richard Sharp, who – in events that are surely a matter of pure coincidence – managed to secure a job as BBC chairman after helping to arrange a £800k loan for the then prime minister.

If Zahawi hadn’t been sacked, the Sunday politics programmes would have been dominated by this story. With every passing day, there are new revelations.

At the weekend, the Sunday Times got hold of a leaked memo, sent to Johnson weeks before Sharp got the top job, that read: “Given the imminent announcement of Richard Sharp as the new BBC chair, it is important that you no longer ask his advice about your personal financial matters.”

Sunak’s response to this murky business has been as lacklustre as you would expect. He said Sharp had been through a “rigorous” appointments process to become BBC chair. He rejected calls for an investigation into whether Sharp gained any advantage from his relationship with Johnson.

It’s clear Sunak is only motivated to root out cronyism and sleaze when the headlines become so damaging that he is forced to pay attention.