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Rishi Sunak to come under renewed pressure on Nadim Zahawi at PMQs

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Ishii Sunak will come under fresh pressure on Nadim Zahawi as he resists sacking the Tory party chairman despite his tax affairs being under investigation.

Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer is likely to seize on the fallout from Mr Zahavi’s multi-million pound deal at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.

The Prime Minister ordered his ethics adviser to investigate whether Mr Zahavi broke ministerial rules over an estimated £4.8 million bill settled with the Chancellor of the Exchequer with HMRC.

Mr Sunak acknowledged “there are questions that need to be answered” since the investigation was launched, but it was unclear what he knew when appointing Mr Zahavi to the cabinet-presenting role.

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Lord Evans, chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, criticized the legal threats made by Mr Zahavi as he tried to prevent stories about his tax affairs from emerging.

As he worked to uncover the situation, The Independent website said he personally threatened “legal action” and that tax lawyer Dan Needle was contacted by “expensive” libel lawyers.

Lord Evans suggested that “trying to shut down a legitimate public debate” would not live up to the Nolan Principles on Public Life which should be upheld under the Ministerial Code.

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“Accountability, openness are things that the government says it wants to characterize its behaviour, so I think that speaks for itself,” he told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme.

“This kind of effort, outright legal effort, to suppress this story, I don’t think it meets the kind of standards the public would rightly expect.”

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Senior Conservative MP Caroline Noakes has called on him to “stand aside until this matter is clear”, but Mr Sunak has so far stood by Mr Zahavi.

The prime minister argued that it is “long-standing practice” for ministers to remain in their roles during investigations.

Only last Wednesday Mr Sunak told PMQ that Mr Zahavi had “already fully addressed this matter”.

The Prime Minister’s press secretary said Mr Sunak “takes Nadim Zahawi at his word”.

But Mr Sunak succumbed to pressure to order an inquiry by Sir Laurie Magnus, an adviser to the minister’s interests, after the Guardian revealed Mr Zahavi paid a fine as part of the controversy.

Downing Street later suggested Mr Sunak was not aware last week that Mr Zahavi had allegedly paid a 30% penalty to HMRC.

And the prime minister said the advice he had received before appointing Mr Zahawi as party chairman in October was that there was “no reason”.

Mr Zahavi, MP for Stratford-upon-Avon, has insisted his “error” over shares in the YouGov polling company, which he co-founded, was “reckless and not deliberate”.

He has insisted that he is “confident” that he “acted properly the whole time”.

Labor has argued that Mr Sunak should be sacked as Speaker prior to the conclusion of the inquiry, describing it as a “pathetic attempt to pass the buck”.

Mr Zahavi was appointed chancellor by Boris Johnson, whose time in Number 10 was posing challenges for Mr Sunak.

Fresh allegations of nepotism in the Tory party came after BBC chairman Richard Sharp helped Mr Johnson secure a loan of up to £800,000, before the then PM backed his appointment to the broadcaster.

Since the last PMQs, Sunak has also received a second police fine, this time for failing to wear a seatbelt after breaking coronavirus rules during the Partygate scandal.

(Tags to translate) Nadim Zahawi

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