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Cabinet goes to the checkers as minister says Nadim Zahawi will finish probe in 10 days

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Ishii Sunak is expected to be joined by embattled Nadim Zahawi when the cabinet meets for a day at the Prime Minister’s Grace and Grace country house.

The visit to Checkers in Buckinghamshire comes after days of headlines about Mr Zahavi’s tax affairs, which have seen the Conservative Party chairman subject to an ethics probe.

Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride said it could take just 10 days to announce the outcome of the inquiry, which was announced by the Prime Minister on Monday.

That means the findings could be on Mr Sunak’s desk as late as next week.

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Mr Sunak ordered an inquiry by his independent adviser on ministerial interests, Sir Laurie Magnus, into whether Mr Zahavi broke ministerial rules over an estimated £4.8 million bill settled with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) while chancellor.

Mr Stride told him on ITV’s Peston program on Wednesday that rumors suggested the inquiry could be carried out within 10 days, adding that it “would not be unusual” for Sir Laurie to work within that time frame.

He said: “I cannot draw on an arrangement of which I do not know all the details.

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“But the good news is that we will, in about ten days’ time or so, hear from the ethics adviser, who will report to the prime minister, the prime minister will have the facts and he will actually be able to make those decisions.”

Lord Barwell, who served as Theresa May’s Downing Street chief of staff, said the lack of public defense being offered for Mr Zahavi suggested his role could be under threat.

The Conservative peer told Channel 4 News: “I think when you see other ministers unwilling to defend a colleague and when you see Number 10 confirming that ‘we don’t know these facts’ were when the Prime Minister said’, that’s an indication to you which way the wind is blowing.”

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Asked if the game could end, the former MP nodded in agreement.

At Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Sunak admitted he had not been given the full picture about the Minister for Financial Affairs without portfolio, when he told MPs last week that Mr Zahavi had given a “full” account.

The prime minister also said it may be “politically expedient” to sack the former vaccines minister, but insisted it was important to follow “due process”.

Business minister Andrew Bowie insisted Mr Sunak would sack his party chairman if he was found breaking the ministerial code, but Downing Street said changes to the code meant that would not automatically be the case.

The country cabinet on Thursday, which Downing Street said would focus on the prime minister’s political priorities, has been dubbed a “day of hiding” by opposition parties.

Downing Street offered few details about the day off, but the prime minister’s official spokesman said cabinet ministers would “focus on the five priority areas” Mr Sunak talked about in his New Year’s speech .

The Tory party leader set out his five pledges earlier this month, which include reducing inflation and reducing NHS waiting lists by the end of the year on the list.

One of the issues Mr Sunak pointed to in his January 4 speech was anti-social behaviour, highlighting the blame for “nitrous oxide canisters in children’s playgrounds”.

According to The Times, ministers are preparing to ban the sale and possession of what is later known as laughing gas as part of a crackdown on anti-social behaviour.

The newspaper reported that under the proposals, drug-abuse laws would be amended to allow prosecution of people found with nitrous oxide gas in public.

The Home Office has been contacted for comment on the reported changes.

While in Chequers, a political cabinet – where ministers discuss political matters without officials – will also be held.

It was not clear whether Mr Zahavi, in his role as Tory chairman, would make a presentation to allies ahead of May local elections.

The Liberal Democrats accused the cabinet of effectively avoiding an investigation as the country grapples with multiple crises.

Lib Dem deputy leader Daisy Cooper said, “While Rishi Sunak and his scandal-hit ministers have a ‘refuge’ day at Chequers, the rest of the country suffers from this endless Conservative chaos.”

“The NHS is in crisis and people are struggling to pay their rent or mortgages, but Conservative ministers are busy fighting to save their own careers.

“Sunak’s promise to govern honestly has now been shattered. He can’t even deal with the many crises facing his cabinet, leave alone the bigger challenges facing the country.”

(tagsto be translated) Nadim Zahawi

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