Cabinet goes to Checkers as Minister says Nadhim Zahawi will conduct an inquiry in 10 days

The trip to Checkers in Buckinghamshire comes after days of headlines over Mr Zahawi’s tax affairs, which have seen the Conservative Party leader face an ethical scrutiny.

Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride said the outcome of that inquiry, which the Prime Minister announced on Monday, could take as little as 10 days.

That means the conclusions could be on Mr Sunak’s desk as early as next week.

Mr Sunak ordered an inquiry by Sir Laurie Magnus, his independent adviser on Ministers’ interests, to determine whether Mr Zahawi was guilty of the estimated £4.8million bill.

Mr Stride, told on Wednesday on ITV’s Peston program that rumors had suggested the inquest could be carried out within 10 days, said it was “not atypical” that Sir Laurie would operate in that timeframe.

He added: “I can’t go back to an arrangement that I don’t know all the details of.

“But the good news is that in about ten days or so we’ll be hearing from the ethics adviser who will be reporting to the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister will then have the facts and will be able to make accurate those judgments.”

Lord Barwell, who served Theresa May as Downing Street’s chief of staff, said the lack of public defense offered to Mr Zahawi suggested his role could be in jeopardy.

Former Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi faces ethical scrutiny over his tax affairs (Victoria Jones/PA) — © Victoria Jones

The Conservative colleague told Channel 4 News: “I think when you see other ministers who are unwilling to defend a colleague and when you see No 10 confirming ‘we didn’t know those facts when he did Prime Minister that said, ‘It gives you an indication of which way the wind is blowing.’

When asked if it was “game over,” the former MP appeared to nod his head in agreement.

Mr Sunak admitted to the prime minister’s questions that he was not given a full picture of the minister’s financial affairs when he told MPs last week that Mr Zahawi had given a “full” account.

The Prime Minister also said it could make “political sense” to sack the former vaccine minister, but stressed it was important that “due process” was followed.

Trade Secretary Andrew Bowie insisted Mr Sunak would sack his party leader if he was found to have breached the Ministers’ Code, but Downing Street said changes to the code meant it would not automatically be the case.

Thursday’s cabinet trip, which Downing Street said would focus on the Prime Minister’s political priorities, has been dubbed a “day of hiding” by opposition parties.

Downing Street has offered few details on what the day off would entail, but the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said Cabinet ministers would “focus on the five priority areas” Mr Sunak spoke about in his New Year’s address.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s priorities for the country are discussed at Checkers (Victoria Jones/PA). — © Victoria Jones

The leader of the Tory party laid out his five pledges earlier this month, including halving inflation by the end of the year and cutting NHS waiting lists.

One of the problems Mr Sunak highlighted in his 4 January speech was anti-social behaviour, highlighting the putrefaction of discarded ‘nitrous oxide canisters in children’s playgrounds’.

Ministers are then preparing to ban the sale and possession of so-called nitrous oxide as part of a crackdown on anti-social behaviour, according to The Times.

Under the proposals, drug abuse laws would be revised to allow anyone found using nitrous oxide in public to be prosecuted, the newspaper reported.

The Home Office has been asked for comment on the reported changes.

A political cabinet is also held at Checkers, where ministers discuss political matters without officials present.

It was unclear if Mr Zahawi would make a presentation to colleagues in his role as Tory leader ahead of the local elections in May.

The Liberal Democrats accused the cabinet of effectively dodging a review as the country grapples with a series of crises.

“While Rishi Sunak and his scandal-ridden ministers are having a ‘hideaway’ day at Checkers, the rest of the country is suffering from this endless conservative chaos,” said Lib Dem Deputy Chair Daisy Cooper.

“The NHS is in crisis and people are struggling to pay their rent or mortgage, but Conservative ministers are too busy trying to save their own careers.

“Sunak’s promise to rule with integrity now lies in tatters. He cannot even handle the numerous crises his cabinet is facing, let alone the enormous challenges facing the country.” Cabinet goes to Checkers as Minister says Nadhim Zahawi will conduct an inquiry in 10 days

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