"Did his now former chair tell government officials that he was under investigation by the taxman before or after the Prime Minister appointed him?”
The Prime Minister was left humiliated at PMQs today, after Labour leader Keir Starmer tore into the Tories over their latest incidents of sleaze and allegations of corruption.
Days after Sunak was forced to sack former Tory chair Nadhim Zahawi following an inquiry by the Prime Minister’s ethics adviser which found he had failed to disclose that HMRC was investigating his tax affairs, Sunak once more faced questions about what he knew and when.
Zahawi had to pay a penalty to resolve a dispute with HMRC over unpaid taxes. He had not disclosed the size of the settlement – reported to be an estimated £4.8m including a 30% penalty – or whether he paid a fine. He also settled his tax dispute while he was chancellor, which Labour’s Anneliese Dodds described as ‘shocking’.
Starmer kicked off PMQs this afternoon with a question regarding Zahawi, asking Sunak: “When the Prime Minister briefly emerged from his hibernation at the weekend, he raised more questions than answers.
“So, in the interests of integrity and accountability can he set the record straight, did his now former chair tell government officials that he was under investigation by the taxman before or after the Prime Minister appointed him?”
Sunak failed to answer the simple question, rambling about how he had referred the matter to an independent investigation.
Starmer then referred to some of the reports from last summer about Zahawi’s tax affairs. ‘Did officials hide this from him, or was he just “too incurious” to ask about it?’, he asked Sunak.
The Labour leader also asked what Sunak knew about the bullying allegations against Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab. He said: “At the last count, the Deputy Prime Minister was facing 24 separate allegations of bullying. According to recent reports some of the complainants were physically sick, one says they were left suicidal.
“How would he feel if one of his friends or relatives was forced to work for a bully simply because the man at the top was too weak to do anything about it.”
Starmer also highlighted the latest scandal involving Boris Johnson and the chairman of the BBC, Richard Sharp. Sharp is said to have helped Johnson with his personal finances during the interview process for the role at the corporation, helping secure a loan worth £800,000, weeks before he was recommended for the job by the then prime minister.
The Labour leader asked: “Was it a coincidence that the two people who arranged an £800,000 line of credit for the former PM were both shortlisted for plum jobs at the BBC and the British Council?”
So much for Sunak’s promise to govern with integrity and professionalism.
Basit Mahmood is editor of Left Foot Forward