Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith has urged Nadhim Zahawi to reveal full details following a row over his tax affairs – as the beleaguered party leader struggles for his political survival.
Labor has called for the cabinet minister to be sacked after he pleaded guilty to paying a settlement to HMRC following a tax error related to an interest in YouGov.
Mr. Zahawi issued a statement on Saturday to “resolve some confusion about my finances” but raised further questions, including whether he negotiated the dispute when he served as chancellor in the final days of the Johnson administration.
On Sunday morning, the Minister of Foreign Affairs James Cleverly told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday’s show that he knew no more about the situation than what was in his colleague’s statement.
“I’m not an investigator,” he said when told he was there to speak on behalf of the government.
Mr Zahawi did not disclose the size of the settlement – an estimated £4.8m including 30% of the penalty – nor did he confirm whether he had paid the fine.
Asked whether he should disclose this information, Cleverly said: “People’s taxes are private matters. I know that as politicians, quite rightly, we are expected to have a higher level of disclosure than perhaps other people.
“Nadhim issued a statement admitting that he made a careless mistake, the matter has now been resolved.”
However, senior backbencher and former Tory leader Sir Iain had a different view.
“The sooner you can reveal the facts, the better, rather than revealing them in stages,” he told the BBC on Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg’s show.
“I would tell him, throw it all out now, whatever you have to do, and explain it.”
He added: “I don’t believe he is lying in any way.”
Reports on Mr. Zahawi’s tax affairs began to emerge when he was appointed chancellor by Mr. Johnson last summer.
He denied allegations that he evaded tax by using an offshore company registered in Gibraltar to hold shares in the survey company YouGov, which he co-founded.
Questions swirled after the article in Sun on Sunday last week, which claimed Mr Zahawi had made a seven-figure payment to settle a dispute with the taxpayer “after investigating his family’s financial affairs”.
In his statement last night, Mr Zahawi said his father had taken over the founder’s shares in YouGov and that HMRC later “disagreed on the exact allocation”, leading him to “settle the case and pay the amount due”.
Mr Zahawi said he had made a “careless and unintentional error”, but opposition parties demanded an independent investigation as well as the publication of all of Mr Zahawi’s correspondence with HMRC.
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Pat McFadden, shadow chief secretary of the treasury, told Sophy Ridge: “Mr. Zahawi has a hard time because the problem is what they tell us to believe.
“We are being asked to believe that he had this £27m estate which he didn’t really know was his and therefore didn’t really know there was a tax owed on it.”
He said “perhaps all politicians” should publish their tax returns – a view shared by former shadow chancellor John McDonnell.
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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is also being urged to “come out” about what he knew when he appointed Zahawi as party chairman in October.
Mr Cleverly suggested that the Prime Minister did not discuss ministers’ “external affairs” during appointments and that it was the role of the Cabinet Office to carry out due diligence on his behalf.
Labor deputy leader Angela Rayner wants Downing Street to release all correspondence ahead of Mr Zahawi’s various appointments to the government to clarify whether he was chancellor at the time of the settlement and to explain how his conduct is in line with the Ministerial Code.
She accused Sunak of “failing to deliver the integrity, professionalism and accountability he promised” when he became prime minister.
She added: “It is his duty to sanitize his scandal-ridden cabinet by making it clear what steps he has taken to ensure that all ministers’ tax affairs are in order, eliminate tax misbehavior and give the public a sense of security.”