The BBC Radio 4 presenter put Zahawi under the spotlight on the Today programme and even threatened to “cut this interview short” when the cabinet minister repeatedly gave dissatisfying answers.
Robinson launched in with questions about the rise in National Insurance, expected to be announced today in a bid to bolster the NHS and the crumbling social care system.
This news comes almost two years after the Conservatives pledged in their 2019 manifesto not to increase National Insurance contributions, and has been widely criticised as it will disproportionately affect working young people.
He asked: “Why does Boris Johnson feel the need to break this tax promise?”
Zahawi replied: “That’s a very very clever way, of saying hypothetically, in principle, why do you want to do this?”
Robinson hit back: “No, I’m asking why you wanted to make an announcement at all today. Something you issued you in a press release and presumably why you agreed to appear on the radio.”
Zahawi claimed that his radio appearance was due to the huge £5.4 billion injection the government just put into the NHS, and said Boris Johnson would be providing the necessary details on the National Insurance changes later in the day.
But Robinson questioned why this manifesto promise from 2019 was being broken now.
He noted: “The social care crisis long predates the pandemic. Yet, Boris Johnson said we can cope with that without a tax rise.
“So, let’s be clear, there is no need to raise taxes to fix social care, or did Boris Johnson just get that wrong?”
Robinson added: “I’m asking why you said one thing to the electorate and you’re now saying another.”
Zahawi replied: “What I’m saying is let’s see the detail, and then I’ll happily come back on your programme.”
Robinson pointedly said: “Mr Zahawi, I’m not asking you about the detail – I don’t want to waste your time and I frankly don’t want you to waste the listeners’ time.
“People are entitled to answer a very simple question: why do the Conservatives think they have to put taxes up?”
Zahawi responded: “I think it would be wrong and unwise for the vaccine deployment minister to stray into how we pay for reforming social care, that are in real need of reform, that will be set out by the Chancellor.”
Robinson appeared deeply frustrated when he then added: “I think what we should do is just cut this interview short, because frankly, it’s a waste of my time and a waste of yours if you can’t address it.”
But, Zahawi tried to defend himself and said: “Forgive me if you were getting frustrated; the reason I was trying to answer your question is to say that you need an NHS that is funded and fit for purpose.”
Robinson ended the interview by noting, “we will get someone back on tomorrow who does know a little bit more of the details” about the National Insurance change.