Rishi Sunak has no placed deadline for his ethics advisor’s investigation into Tory chairman Nadhim Zahawi’s tax arrangements, Downing Street has revealed.
No 10 said the prime minister wanted the probe by Sir Laurie Magnus into any ministerial code breach to be carried out “swiftly” but also wanted it to be “thorough”.
Mr Sunak ordered an investigation in Mr Nadhim’s tax affairs after it emerged that the PM had been in the dark about his cabinet minister paying a fine to settle a tax dispute with HMRC.
“We haven’t set a timeline for it because whilst we want this to be conducted swiftly, it’s important equally that it is thorough, hence why we’re not restricting to a particular date,” said the PM’s official spokesman.
It is understood Sir Laurie could look at whether Mr Zahawi failed to tell the truth with remarks he made about his tax affairs last summer, and at threats Mr Zahawi made against those looking into his arrangements.
But No 10 would not share the precise remit the ethics adviser had been given, and would not say whether further details of Mr Zahawi’s tax affairs would be revealed when the report is published.
“The investigation looks at any potential breaches of the ministerial code. As you’ll know, I won’t get into being prescriptive about how the advice goes about ascertaining that,” said the No 10 spokesperson.
Asked if Mr Sunak was confident that Mr Zahawi always told him the truth about his tax affairs, the spokesperson said: “I don’t believe there have been discussions between the prime minister and Mr Zahawi on that specific level of detail.”
Former cabinet minister Caroline Nokes became the first Tory to call on Mr Zahawi to resign, saying his tax settlement was “too much of a problem” and would continue to be a distraction for the government.
Tory peer Lord Hayward also said Mr Zahawi should “stand aside” and his position as chair left vacant until the investigation is complete.
“My inclination is to say, ‘Look … let’s stand to stand to one stand’,” the polling expert and peer told LBC – saying he hoped the probe could be done “very rapidly”.
Despite the probe, an ally of Mr Zahawi said on Monday that the ex-chancellor “absolutely” will not be quitting in the face of growing pressure over his settlement.
Mr Zahawi has not yet disclosed the size of the HMRC settlement – reportedly an estimated £4.8m, including a 30 per cent penalty of around £1m. But his spokesman has not denied the reported sums.
Home Office minister Chris Philp said earlier on Tuesday that the PM was told there were “no outstanding issues” in relation to Mr Zahawi’s tax affairs when appointing him Tory chair in the autumn.
Asked he could say with a straight face that this was a government of “integrity”, Mr Philp told Times Radio: “Yes, I can,” arguing that the PM had acted “quickly and decisively” on the matter.