Politics news – latest: Sunak under pressure to fire Zahawi over tax … – Sky News

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Questions over Nadhim Zahawi’s financial affairs continue amid reports he paid HMRC £4.8m in missed tax last year. Rishi Sunak has ordered the government’s ethics adviser to look into the matter – but the Tory chairman is “confident” he acted properly.
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Here is what happened yesterday, to get you up to speed:
Coming up this morning on Sky News:
Despite sources close to Nadhim Zahawi maintaining to Sky News that the former chancellor and Tory Party chairman is absolutely not standing down, MPs within his own party are beginning to feel differently.
An inquiry into the Conservative Party chairman was launched by Rishi Sunak yesterday after it was revealed that Mr Zahawi had paid a settlement to HMRC, including a penalty.

Mr Zahawi insists he has “acted properly” throughout, and is keeping his job while the government’s independent ethics adviser reviews his conduct. 
Speaking to Tory MPs one former cabinet minister tells me: “I’m not sure the PM needs to use up much political capital on him.”
A former minister said “he’s toast” while another explained how they don’t see how Zahawi can survive.
And when speaking to a current cabinet minister I asked them whether the writing was on the wall for the man once so heavily praised for his success in the UK’s vaccine rollout, to which they replied: “Feels a bit like that.”
Though for now Tory MPs remain reticent to publicly call for the sacking of their chairman, many believe the stench of political death is an undeniable reality.
As if pressure from the Labour party and public outrage wasn’t enough, the tides appear to be turning on Nadhim Zahawi from within his own party.
Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy will today outline Labour’s plans to “reset” the UK’s foreign policy – and reverse the country’s “tarnished international reputation”.
Mr Lammy – who is speaking to Sky News at 8.05am – is giving a speech today at Chatham House.
He will outline five goals for the opposition party should it take power, in relation to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).
This will include working more closely with the EU on security, increasing trade in the “industries of the future”, and reinvigorating the UK’s soft power – including protecting the BBC World Service from further cuts.
The other priorities include turning climate change response into an “engine for growth, and pushing to “re-establish” the UK as a “trusted, reliable and influential partner” when it comes to diplomacy.
Shadow cabinet minister Mr Lammy is set to say: “Foreign policy has never been so important in shaping the daily lives of people in Britain.
“At no point has national success been so tied to the forces of global change.
“But ideological leadership and reckless choices have left Britain increasingly disconnected from its closest allies, an economy in crisis and a tarnished international reputation.
“A failure to clearly define the goals of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office around modern challenges leave the UK ill-equipped to face the future.
“It doesn’t have to be this way. The UK is home to cutting-edge technology and services, world-leading universities, vibrant cultural industries, and it has the potential for unparalleled global connections.
“Labour will reset our foreign policy to create a Britain Reconnected, for security and prosperity at home.”
A former Labour MP tried to claim up to £30,000 in taxpayers’ cash to fund a “significant cocaine habit”, prosecutors have said.
Jared O’Mara, 41, was in “poor mental health” at the time and abusing the class A drug in “prodigious quantities”, Leeds Crown Court heard.
A friend, charged alongside him, believed the politician was suffering a “severe psychotic episode” and feared a conspiracy against him.
It is claimed that O’Mara, who represented the Sheffield Hallam constituency between 2017 and 2019, submitted “dishonest” invoices to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa).
Jurors were told he made four claims between June and August 2019 from a “fictitious” organisation called Confident About Autism SY.
Read more below: 
Chief political correspondent Jon Craig explains the controversy surrounding Nadhim Zahawi’s finances- and why there is mounting pressure for the former chancellor to resign.
After we reported a lack of any headway over the Northern Ireland Protocol (see 1744 post), Downing Street has revealed what Rishi Sunak and Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar discussed this afternoon during their first phone call since Mr Varadkar became leader last month.
They did speak about the issues over the protocol and agreed there is a “need to find solutions to the problems being faced by communities in Northern Ireland”.
A spokesman for Mr Varadkar said the Taoiseach repeated the need for a solution that avoids a hard border on the island of Ireland and protects the integrity of the single market.
The pair also reflected on the need for Northern Ireland to have a power-sharing government “up and running as soon as possible” as it has not had a functioning Assembly since May after the DUP refused to take part unless the sea border created by the protocol is removed.
Mr Sunak and Mr Varadkar also spoke about cooperation on research and development and offshore wind, as well as the Ukraine war.
“The leaders agreed to stay in close touch,” Mr Sunak’s spokeswoman added.
The government was planning to appoint 12 regional levelling up directors across the UK but MPs have been told today that has been put on hold and may be abandoned altogether.
Levelling Up minister Dehenna Davison told a cross-party committee of MPs no directors have yet been appointed and the recruitment process was now the subject of an internal review.
A senior official in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said the review could result in the plan being dropped entirely.
The posts, with an annual salary of £120,000 to £144,000, were advertised in April and there were more than 500 applications.
But nine months on, no appointments have been announced.
Ms Davison said the recruitment process was now the subject of an internal review to ensure they got it “absolutely spot on”.
But Jessica Blakely, the director of levelling up major programmes, said there was a “pause and reassessment” which could mean no directors would be appointed.
“I think what the minister is trying to say is that we are reviewing that process at moment,” she said.
“There is a reconsideration of whether we are going to appoint directors out of that specific process. Part of that reconsideration does involve whether or not we will have directors at all, I am assuming.
“That is basically not the question that we have answered as yet because that forms part of the review – if that makes sense?”

Conservative Home editor Paul Goodman takes a similarly pessimistic view to that of Craig Oliver (see 12.25 post) on the Tory chairman’s hopes of remaining in his post.
He suggests that the signals emanating from Downing Street are less than rosy for Nadhim Zahawi.
“For when a minister comes under fire, the prime minister’s support is essential,” Goodman writes.
“If it is heartfelt, the latter may find a way of saying a few words for a camera or the airwaves. The view of the minister’s colleagues will also be important…
“You will have your own take, but James Cleverly, the luckless minister on media duty yesterday, didn’t say that he had confidence in Zahawi as party chairman, but that his colleagues’ futures are a matter for the prime minister. That wasn’t exactly a vote of confidence. Meanwhile, Iain Duncan Smith, who was also in the TV studios, urged Zahawi to ‘get it all out now, whatever you have to do, and clear it up’.
“I haven’t yet spoken to anyone in Downing Street with a less cautious view… Duncan Smith said that ‘I genuinely don’t believe this is a man who is deceitful in any shape or form’. But one senior figure I spoke to yesterday said that he wasn’t convinced by Zahawi’s account of events.”
He concludes that “it’s a bad position for a party chairman to be in” and says: “Downing Street would do better to make up its mind now rather than do so just before Wednesday’s PMQs.”
Steve Baker, the Northern Ireland minister, has told the Commons there is “no deal on the table” after hopes were raised last week that the impasse over the Northern Ireland Protocol was to be fixed.
Perhaps trying to manage expectations after hopes of a deal were raised by the appointment of a new prime minister, Mr Baker clarified it would take a while but said “we may well be able to get a deal”.
“At the moment, I think the sense is among all parties, whether it’s the government of Ireland, or whether it’s the parties represented here in the House, whether it’s government ministers or the European Union, we all want a deal, we want to move on,” he told the Commons.

“We want a deal which respects the legitimate interests of Unionism, which keeps the whole UK together and out of the EU, which respects the Act of Union and so on, and my sense is that through much improved constructive relations between the UK and Ireland and the EU, we may well be able to get deal.
“But I have to say to people watching this, right now, today there is no deal on the table, there is a large gap to be bridged and we are working intensively to do just that.”

The protocol has caused problems for products going into Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK as some now have to go through customs arrangements, which has effectively placed a border in the Irish Sea – which Boris Johnson promised would not happen.
He tried to solve the issue with the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill but the EU accused him of reneging on the deal and breaking international law, causing further friction.
Away from strikes, Nadhim Zahawi and the BBC’s chairman, North West Leicestershire MP Andrew Bridgen has apologised to the Commons.
He was stripped of the Tory whip on 11 January after appearing to compare COVID-19 vaccines with the Holocaust, so is now an independent MP.
At the time, he was already serving a five-day suspension from the Commons for breaching lobbying rules and suggesting the woman investigating him could be swayed with a peerage.
Appearing back in the Commons today after serving his suspension, he said: “This place loses reputation when members fail to maintain the highest possible standards. 
“I respect the rules and traditions of this place and I accept the ruling of the Standards Committee and the independent expert panel which heard my appeal.
“I therefore apologise to the House for all my breaches of the code of conduct. The committee found that I breached paragraph 12 of the code on paid advocacy and paragraph 14 on registration and declaration of interest. I should have been more alert to the rules.
“The committee also criticised me for a letter I wrote to the former commissioner for standards during my case after she had completed her investigation. 
“I accept that this letter was inappropriate and I apologise to the former commissioner Kathryn Stone.”

Mr Bridgen was found to have breached the code of conduct by making multiple approaches to ministers and public officials on behalf of Mere Plantations, a Cheshire-based teak reforestation company with forests in Ghana, for which he was initially paid £12,000 a year as an adviser.
He failed to register his interest in the company in the time frame stipulated by the code, with the investigating Standards Committee saying he had a “very cavalier” attitude to the rules.
Mr Bridgen also emailed the commissioner shortly after the investigation started and implied she could be swayed with a peerage as he claimed he heard a “rumour” she would only receive one if she ruled against him because he was an outspoken critic of Boris Johnson, the prime minister at the time.
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