FOREIGN Secretary James Cleverly has insisted that the tax affairs of cabinet ministers are “private matters”.
The comments come as more questions emerged over Nadhim Zahawi’s seven-figure settlement with HM Revenue & Customs.
In a statement on Saturday, Mr Zahawi said he had made a “careless” and not a deliberate mistake. However, he seemed to suggest that he negotiated the dispute with the taxman while he was serving as Boris Johnson’s chancellor.
He has not yet disclosed the size of the settlement. However, there is speculation it could be around £4.8 million, including a 30 per cent penalty.
During media appearances, Mr Cleverly denied any knowledge of the details of Mr Zahawi’s tax matter.
“I don’t know more than is in his statement,” he said.
Asked whether Mr Zahawi should reveal this information, the Foreign Secretary said: “People’s taxes are private matters. I know that as politicians we, quite rightly, are expected to have a higher level of disclosure than perhaps other people might do.
“Nadhim has issued a statement where he has admitted that he made a careless error, that this is now resolved.”
He also evaded questions on what Rishi Sunak knew.
He said the Prime Minister did not discuss ministers’ “external affairs” during appointments and that it is the Cabinet Office’s role to conduct due diligence on his behalf.
Mr Cleverly said he was unable to answer questions on Mr Zahawi’s tax affairs because he was carrying out his duties as Foreign Secretary during the week and then “having a bit of a rest and doing some shopping”.
Asked whether Mr Zahawi will survive in his role until Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Mr Cleverly said: “What else am I going to say other than yes, because he’s a very, very effective minister.”
Labour has promised to “drain the swamp” if they become the next government.
The Trump-like soundbite from Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves came as she criticised the government over a number of scandals, including Mr Zahawi’s tax affairs, and reports banker Richard Sharp helped Boris Johnson secure an £800,000 loan weeks before the then-prime minister recommended him to be BBC chairman.
She told the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg programme: “We’ve got a situation now in the Conservative Party where you’ve got the chairman, who used to be the chancellor, who it looks like has been fined a million pounds or more for not paying his taxes.
“You’ve got a Deputy Prime Minister who’s being investigated for bullying claims, and you’ve got a former prime minister who it is alleged had his extravagant lifestyle funded by a donor who was facilitated by the current chairman of the BBC, who instantly got that job just after facilitating that arrangement.
“No-one seemed to think there was any need to declare anything in terms of conflicts of interest.
“And you’ve got a Prime Minister who is too weak to do anything about it.
“It’s going to take an incoming Labour government to clean up this mess, drain the swamp, because, frankly, it stinks.”
Asked whether cabinet ministers would publish their tax returns under a Labour government, she said: “I would be happy to do that if that was the thing that was necessary.”
SNP Spokesperson for the Cabinet Office Kirsty Blackman said: “It beggars belief that a former Tory Chancellor – with responsibility for the UK’s tax system – has reportedly had to pay a penalty to HMRC, as part of a multi-million pound settlement.
“This is after him calling legitimate questions about his tax affairs ‘smears’ last year. How can anyone trust a word the Tories say?
“It’s simply untenable for the Prime Minister to keep Tory Chair Nadhim Zahawi as a member of his government. He should sack him from his Cabinet.”