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Nadhim ZahawiRex Features

There are still loads of unanswered questions about the tax affairs of the Conservative Party chairman Nadhim Zahawi.

And there are still loads of unanswered questions about what the prime minister knew and when about the whole thing.

What is clear is Downing Street’s confidence in Mr Zahawi has drained away compared to a week ago, if not entirely emptied.

The prime minister’s actions prove that – asking his ethics adviser to look into it – even if his team’s words don’t give much away.

Was he disappointed to discover a few days ago that Mr Zahawi paid a penalty to the tax authority?

“We won’t comment on the prime minister’s emotional state” came the playful if not entirely helpful reply from his spokesman.

Incidentally, none of this will stop Mr Zahawi rolling up in the Buckinghamshire countryside on Thursday for a cabinet away day at the prime minister’s country retreat, Chequers.

Mr Zahawi will be at the all-day event, which will start with what is known as “political cabinet” first, where discussions focus on party politics. That’s followed by a conventional cabinet meeting in the afternoon, where the business of government is on the agenda.

After Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Rishi Sunak’s official spokesman and one of his senior advisers spent about 35 minutes facing questions from reporters about Mr Zahawi.

It became something of an endurance slalom event, his team swerving this way or that to avoid many of the questions.

Crucially, they wouldn’t tell us whether Mr Sunak had talked to Mr Zahawi before last week’s PMQs. Back then the prime minister said the whole thing about his party chairman’s taxes had already been addressed “in full.”

Had the answer to that question been yes, the obvious follow up would have been did he seek detail about Mr Zahawi’s settlement with His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

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Was Mr Sunak sufficiently curious, was Mr Zahawi sufficiently candid?

And had the answer been no, the obvious follow up would have been so how could the prime minister have been so definitive in insisting there was nothing to see here a week ago.

But we are currently none the wiser.

What we were told was the prime minister does have confidence in Mr Zahawi, even though Mr Sunak said it would have been politically expedient to sack him.

To be fair, any serving minister technically has to have the confidence of the prime minister.

But it was one of several moments where the verbal contortions required by his team to avoid saying anything much at all prompted a laugh from the assembled huddle of journalists.

And there is a broader front opening up too.

The weaponising of wealth, with Labour and the SNP pointing to the prime minister’s vast wealth too.

However admirably accumulated, for those at the top of politics who are mega-rich there is always likely to be political vulnerability around a perception of being detached from the lives of ordinary folk and having concerns and issues over tax, for instance, that seem other-worldly.

Both Keir Starmer and the SNP’s Westminster Leader Stephen Flynn made reference to the prime minister’s wife who, it emerged last year, had legally avoided millions of pounds of UK tax, before saying, after a political row, she would pay it from then on.

Mr Sunak squirmed in his seat and is often prickly when the political becomes personal, as I wrote here a few weeks back.

So had Mr Sunak ever paid a penalty to HMRC as we know Mr Zahawi has?

There was no answer.

Five hours later, a statement from Downing Street: “The prime minister has never paid a penalty to HMRC.”

It won’t be the last time Rishi Sunak’s wealth comes under scrutiny.

But it is his judgement that is the real focus now – as the Nadhim Zahawi affair rumbles on.

Source: BBC

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