Good morning. It was widely predicted that Nadhim Zahawi would lose his job as Conservative party chair after the investigation into his tax affairs, but I don’t think anyone in the Westminster politico-media world was expecting a sacking at 9am on a Sunday morning. Normally that’s a dead zone for No 10 announcements. The timing seemed contrived to imply decisiveness, and to show that Rishi Sunak was taking the initative.
But the departure of Zahawi has not stopped the opposition, and others, criticising Sunak’s handling of the affairs. The story has moved to the “raises questions about his judgment” phase of scandal coverage and Labour has written an open letter to Sunak with a string of as-yet unanswered questions. It says the scandal “leaves many unanswered questions”. Here is the letter.
Conventiently, Sunak will be answering questions this morning. He is doing a Q&A in the north-east of England this morning where some of this is bound to come up.
But it is not just Labour asking questions about the process. Zahawi is said to be furious about his treatment, and Steven Swinford in the Times says Zahawi is considering publishing his own response to the Sir Laurie Magnus report into his tax affairs, which he considers flawed. Swinford says:
Zahawi is said to be furious and believes he has not been given the chance to put his case across. He had one 30-minute meeting with Magnus last Wednesday and only saw details of Magnus’s report when it was published on Twitter.
Allies of Zahawi have disputed Magnus’s timeline. Magnus says that Zahawi failed to inform the Cabinet Office of the settlement he reached with HMRC until January. Those close to Zahawi claim that he did so in September, before his appointment as chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster by Liz Truss and as chairman of the Conservative Party by Sunak.
They say he has text messages and emails to support his claim, which he is said to have shown to Magnus. Zahawi is also said to have been infuriated by the manner of his dismissal shortly before 9am on a Sunday morning. Zahawi was still sending material to Magnus on Saturday night and was given half an hour’s notice that he was being fired.
“It’s an outrage, the timing is deliberate and brutal. He had a half-an-hour meeting on Wednesday in which he gave his side of things and that was it. People deserve their right of reply. A response to the report is a possibility.”
The Daily Telegraph and the BBC have both had similar briefings.
The Spectator has published a list of its own questions for Sunak, based on the premise that Zahawi did not get a fair hearing.
Today Sunak wants to talk about plans he is announcing to commission thousands of extra hospital beds and hundreds more ambulances to cut A&E waiting times by next winter. But the din of scandal means he is not getting the hearing he wants either.
Here is the agenda for the day.
After 9.30am: Rishi Sunak does a Q&A in the north-east of England, after visiting a hospital.
11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.
2pm: The National Education Union holds talks with Gillian Keegan, the education secretary.
After 3pm: Peers debate the report stage of the public order bill.
After 3.30pm: MPs debate the remaining stages of the strikes (minimum service levels) bill.
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