Nadhim Zahawi under pressure to quit ahead of PMQs as standards watchdog criticises his threats to sue – UK politics live | Politics

Nadhim Zahawi under pressure to quit ahead of PMQs as standards watchdog criticises his threats to sue

Good morning. Rishi Sunak is taking PMQs in about three hours and, as he rehearses how to respond to Keir Starmer’s attack lines, one thing he would appreciate is an interruption from an aide saying that the minister without portfolio in the Cabinet Office (Nadhim Zahawi) is on the line to offer his resignation. If Zahawi were to quit this morning, PMQs would be a lot easier.

That does not mean it will happen. Sunak has said that he wants Zahawi’s fate to be decided by the ethics adviser’s inquiry, and Zahawi has said that he has done nothing wrong and intends to stay in post. But on the Today programme a few minutes ago David Gauke, the former Tory cabinet minister, said it was “hard to see how this doesn’t ultimately end in [Zahawi’s] resignation”. He also said, if Zahawi was still in post at 12pm, PMQs was going to be “very uncomfortable” for the prime minister.

Sunak may have thought that the decision to order an inquiry would close down debate about Zahawi until the findings were in. But that has not happened, and increasingly Zahawi is being criticised, not just for having to pay a penalty to HM Revenue and Customs for not paying tax owed on time, but for threatening journalists with libel action last summer when they started making inquiries. Last night Lord Evans, the chair of the committee on standards in public life, was particularly critical of this in an interview with the BBC’s PM programme. He said:

If you’re trying to close down a legitimate public debate, I don’t think that lives up to the standards Lord Nolan laid down and which the government has committed itself to. Accountability [and] openness are things which the government says that it wants to be characterising its own behaviour, so that I think speaks for itself …

The sort of attempts, apparent legal attempts, to suppress this story … I don’t think that does live up to the sort of standards that the public would rightly expect.

On the Today programme this morning Gauke, a former justice secretary, also criticised Zahawi on this point. He said:

What we now know is that what Nadhim Zahawi was saying in the summer is very hard, if not impossible, to reconcile with the information that he has paid a penalty in respect of his [tax] arrangements …

It appears that he was threatening to sue people for libel for essentially telling the truth, for essentially setting out analysis of what happened that seems to stand up to reality.

Here is the agenda for the day.

10am: Sir Mark Rowley, the Metropolitan police commissioner, takes questions from the London assembly’s police and crime committee about the David Carrick case.

12pm: Rishi Sunak faces Keir Starmer at PMQs.

12pm: Michael Gove, the levelling up secretary, speaks at the Convention of the North conference. Lisa Nandy, his Labour shadow, is speaking at 2.50pm.

2.30pm: Robert Jenrick, the immigration minister, gives evidence to the women and equalities committee about equality in the asylum process.

I’ll try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions, and if they are of general interest I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.

If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter. I’m on @AndrewSparrow.

Alternatively, you can email me at andrew.sparrow@theguardian.com

Key events

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Nadhim Zahawi arriving at CCHQ this morning.
Nadhim Zahawi arriving at CCHQ this morning. Photograph: Neil Hall/EPA

Nadhim Zahawi is off the national newspaper front pages this morning, but the story is still running strong inside the papers. Here are some of the main Zahawi lines being reported by other news organisations.

  • The Daily Mail says Nadhim Zahawi’s family lived in breach of a planning condition on their country mansion for a decade. In their story, Andy Dolan, James Tozer and Richard Marsden report:

The embattled Conservative party chairman and wife Lana Saib bought the new-build property on the edge of the Cotswolds in 2011.

But when the house was erected on the site of a riding school and former farm seven years earlier, it was built with a ‘rural occupancy condition (ROC)’ which had been attached to the planning permission -meaning that only agricultural, forestry or equestrian workers could live there.

The Zahawis have now been granted immunity from enforcement action after exceeding a ten-year time limit on such breaches under planning legislation.

  • Nadhim Zahawi was cleared by senior Whitehall officials to take on two cabinet jobs under Liz Truss despite having paid a fine for tax avoidance, the Times report. In their story, Oliver Wright and Henry Zeffman say:

[Liz] Truss appointed Zahawi as cabinet office minister in September without any warnings from officials about his tax affairs. The next month, Zahawi was on a shortlist of two with Jeremy Hunt to replace Kwasi Kwarteng as chancellor, but even then officials did not flag concerns with Truss about the potential appointment.

The failure to warn Truss or Sunak about Zahawi’s tax affairs has raised questions about the role played by the cabinet secretary, Simon Case, who has overall responsibility for advising the prime minister on ethical issues.

  • The Financial Times starts a long profile of Zahawi saying he is due to publish his memoirs, under the title A Boy from Baghdad: My Journey from Waziriyah to Westminster, later this year. In the article Jim Pickard, Raya Jalabi and Robert Smith say:

Many colleagues admire him for his pluck and backslapping bonhomie, for his competent handling, as vaccines minister, of Britain’s fight against Covid-19, and for undoubted prowess as a self-made businessman.

But throughout his career, he has faced criticism for blurring the lines between business and politics, between the public and the personal. Those criticisms have come to a head in the latest scandal. When Zahawi agreed a settlement over profits from his family’s YouGov stake, he was at the time chancellor, leading the department that oversees HMRC.

One former Tory minister described Zahawi as a popular MP and successful risk-taking entrepreneur. But now, he said, Zahawi may have finally “flown a little too close to the sun”.

  • Chris Mason, in a good analysis of Zahawi’s situation for the BBC, says one well-placed source has said the inquiry into the Tory chair being carried out by Sir Laurie Magnus, the No 10 ethics adviser, could be completed within a week.

Rowley says Met considering ‘more inventive legal measures’ to get rid of rogue officers hard to sack

At the end of last year Sir Mark Rowley, the Metropolitan police commissioner, said that there were around 100 officers in his force who could not be trusted to deal with the public, but who could not be sacked. Asked what he was doing about this, Rowley said the Met was considering “more inventive legal measures” that might enable him to get rid of these people.

Turning back to Nadhim Zahawi, the Liberal Democrats have resumed calls for him to resign. “The Conservative party is stuck in an endless cycle of sleaze and chaos, while the country suffers from a cost of living and NHS crisis,” Daisy Cooper, the Lib Dem deputy leader said. “What more will it take for Sunak to finally do the right thing and sack Zahawi, or at least suspend him for the duration of this investigation?”

Met commissioner says ‘lifting stone and revealing painful truths’ for his force will take time

Rowley says the Met is now looking at previous cases where there were complaints about officers. It is considering whether the right decisions were taken.

He says the press has reported this as 1,000 new cases. But these are not new cases, he says.

He says the Met is also looking at the vetting process.

Some officers will have criminal convictions. Those are on record, and they are not always a cause of concern, he says. He says if someone gets a conviction for possession of cannabis at the age of 13, that does not mean they should not be a police officer.

But the force is now looking at officers who may have been the subject of other complaints.

He says the Met is constrained by the rules about dismissals. The government is looking at this, and the Met itself is looking at whether it can push the rules further to address this.

But he says that “lifting the stone and revealing painful truths will not be resolved overnight”.

This process won’t be rapid, he says. And it will be painful.

He ends by urging people not to lose heart with Met while this happens.

UPDATE: Rowley said:

Lifting the stone and revealing painful truths will not be resolved overnight, and I mustn’t pretend it will do, and I hope you understand that that can’t be done.

We have to prepare for more painful stories as we confront the issues that we face.

We’ve discussed before, the systemic failings that create these problems of these officers who corrupt our integrity, and as we put in more resource, more assertive tactics, as we are more open to people reporting incidents to us from within and from without the organisation, and as we more determinedly take on these cases, it will tackle the problems that we face but it won’t … it won’t be rapid and it will be painful.

Sir Mark Rowley giving evidence to the London assembly’s police and crime committee this morning.
Sir Mark Rowley giving evidence to the London assembly’s police and crime committee this morning. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA

Met commissioner apologises to women in London over David Carrick case

Sir Mark Rowley, the Metropolitan police commissioner, opens the meeting with a statement about the David Carrick case.

He says high standards are at the top of his agenda. He has tens of thousands of great men and women working for him. But there are hundreds of officers who should not be in the force, and Carrick was an example.

He says the Met has not applied the same sense of ruthlessness to protecting its integrity as it has to catching criminals.

He apologises to Carrick’s victims, and to all women in London whose trust in the police has been shaken by this.

Turning to the action he has taken, he says he has increased the number of anti-corruption staff and created a new anti-corruption unit. A new integrity hotline is receiving complaints that are being investigated.

Even though this is a Met appeal, one in three of the calls coming through roughly are for other forces. We’re passing information on as well.

Through our challenges, we’re helping the rest of policing confront some issues as well.

Sir Mark Rowley, the Metropolitan police commissioner, is about to give evidence to the London assembly’s police and crime committee. There is a live feed here.

Keir Starmer will use his questions at PMQs to try to establish when Rishi Sunak learnt details of Nadhim Zahawi’s tax arrangements, Robert Wright and George Parker write in the Financial Times. They say:

Sir Keir Starmer, Labour leader, will demand answers from Sunak at prime minister’s questions. “The key question to Sunak is: what did he know and when did he know it,” said one Starmer ally.

Sunak told MPs last Wednesday that Zahawi had “already addressed the matter in full and there is nothing more that I can add”, as he attempted to draw a line under the matter.

But three days later Zahawi admitted he had paid a penalty to HM Revenue & Customs, the tax authority, as part of a settlement of about £5mn over unpaid taxes. Sunak’s allies said Zahawi’s statement “came as news to us”.

Starmer will try to establish why Sunak did not know the facts of the affair last week — the story of the tax settlement broke days earlier in the Sun on Sunday — when he told MPs the matter had been addressed “in full”.

Nadhim Zahawi under pressure to quit ahead of PMQs as standards watchdog criticises his threats to sue

Good morning. Rishi Sunak is taking PMQs in about three hours and, as he rehearses how to respond to Keir Starmer’s attack lines, one thing he would appreciate is an interruption from an aide saying that the minister without portfolio in the Cabinet Office (Nadhim Zahawi) is on the line to offer his resignation. If Zahawi were to quit this morning, PMQs would be a lot easier.

That does not mean it will happen. Sunak has said that he wants Zahawi’s fate to be decided by the ethics adviser’s inquiry, and Zahawi has said that he has done nothing wrong and intends to stay in post. But on the Today programme a few minutes ago David Gauke, the former Tory cabinet minister, said it was “hard to see how this doesn’t ultimately end in [Zahawi’s] resignation”. He also said, if Zahawi was still in post at 12pm, PMQs was going to be “very uncomfortable” for the prime minister.

Sunak may have thought that the decision to order an inquiry would close down debate about Zahawi until the findings were in. But that has not happened, and increasingly Zahawi is being criticised, not just for having to pay a penalty to HM Revenue and Customs for not paying tax owed on time, but for threatening journalists with libel action last summer when they started making inquiries. Last night Lord Evans, the chair of the committee on standards in public life, was particularly critical of this in an interview with the BBC’s PM programme. He said:

If you’re trying to close down a legitimate public debate, I don’t think that lives up to the standards Lord Nolan laid down and which the government has committed itself to. Accountability [and] openness are things which the government says that it wants to be characterising its own behaviour, so that I think speaks for itself …

The sort of attempts, apparent legal attempts, to suppress this story … I don’t think that does live up to the sort of standards that the public would rightly expect.

On the Today programme this morning Gauke, a former justice secretary, also criticised Zahawi on this point. He said:

What we now know is that what Nadhim Zahawi was saying in the summer is very hard, if not impossible, to reconcile with the information that he has paid a penalty in respect of his [tax] arrangements …

It appears that he was threatening to sue people for libel for essentially telling the truth, for essentially setting out analysis of what happened that seems to stand up to reality.

Here is the agenda for the day.

10am: Sir Mark Rowley, the Metropolitan police commissioner, takes questions from the London assembly’s police and crime committee about the David Carrick case.

12pm: Rishi Sunak faces Keir Starmer at PMQs.

12pm: Michael Gove, the levelling up secretary, speaks at the Convention of the North conference. Lisa Nandy, his Labour shadow, is speaking at 2.50pm.

2.30pm: Robert Jenrick, the immigration minister, gives evidence to the women and equalities committee about equality in the asylum process.

I’ll try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions, and if they are of general interest I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.

If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter. I’m on @AndrewSparrow.

Alternatively, you can email me at andrew.sparrow@theguardian.com