Minister Cornered Over 'Sorry State' Of Rishi Sunak's Government Right Now

Nadhim Zahawi's tax scandal is just the latest damaging story to emerge around the PM's top ministers.
Mishal Husain and Nick Ferrari interviewed Helen Whately over the state of the government on Monday
Mishal Husain and Nick Ferrari interviewed Helen Whately over the state of the government on Monday

Helen Whately struggled to explain away the current state of the government on Monday morning and was left floundering in several interviews.

The health minister had been sent out to bat for Downing Street after Tory Party chair Nadhim Zahawi was sacked over the weekend, for breaching the ministerial code over his own tax affairs.

The saga has rocked the government and drawn even more scrutiny to a cabinet already bowing under the weight of several other scandals.

As LBC’s Nick Ferrari pointed out to Whately, home secretary Suella Braverman is still working in government despite breaching the code herself by leaking confidential documents last autumn.

He said: “So Mr Zahawi is gone, but Suella Braverman breached the ministerial code under Liz Truss, and was reinstated by Rishi Sunak just days later.

“So one person can break the ministerial code and another can’t – I wonder if you can explain that?”

Whately said: “So Suella resigned at the time, she apologised for what she had done, and yes, Rishi Sunak reappointed her.”

But she said Zahawi had committed “several” ministerial breaches.

Ferrari then recalled how the first 100 days of the Sunak government has seen real upheaval in the cabinet beyond Braverman.

Cabinet minister Gavin Williamson quit over bullying allegations, the PM himself received a fixed penalty for not wearing a seatbelt, and more than 20 bullying allegations have come to light against deputy PM Dominic Raab in recent weeks.

But, asked how she would summarise the first 100 days of Sunak’s time in office, Whately replied: “I see a government and a prime minister working really hard on the things that matter to people.”

Ferrari also asked what the UK has achieved in the three years since Brexit: “What’s been the biggest achievement in that time?”

Whately, who voted to Remain, just pointed to the successful Covid vaccination programme, “where we were able to go further and faster” with the rollout than if the UK had stayed in the EU.

Ferrari gave a scathing response: “So, had there not been a virus which claimed scores of thousands of lives, there wouldn’t be much else to hang the hat on for leaving?”

Whatley faced a similarly brutal grilling on Radio 4′s Today programme.

Presenter Mishal Husain asked why Zahawi still had the Conservative whip (meaning he can still sit as a Tory MP), especially after he claimed last July that allegations about his tax were “smears”.

Husain said: “We can only conclude that the PM is comfortable for him to be a Conservative MP despite making an untrue public statement and not correcting the record for six months.”

“What I conclude is that the PM was not happy to have Nadhim Zahawi as a member of his government,” Whately replied.

She also refused to be drawn on whether or not Sunak was thinking about withdrawing the whip from Zahawi, saying: “I’m not going to speculate on what happens in the future.”

Husain then asked if the minister could see why people may consider this a “sorry state of affairs”.

Whately said: “The prime minister’s been very clear that he wants to have a government with integrity, accountability and professionalism and when he heard these allegations about Nadhim Zahawi, he put in place a process, he got the independent ethics adviser to look into it so there was due process.

“On the basis of that, he removed Nadhim Zahawi.”

But the Today programme host pointed out: “Actually, he didn’t start the ethics investigation when he heard of the allegations.

“The allegations had actually been continuing for some time, and if he read the newspapers he would have seen them.

“It was also reported on the January 14 in The Sun that he had paid a penalty over. his taxes and reached a settlement, and the prime minister did not begin the ethics adviser investigation then – he didn’t do it for another six days, until Nadhim Zahawi himself had said he’d reached a settlement.”

Whately just said that there is no way Sunak “can keep everyone happy”, but that he has been thorough in his assessment of the situation.

Husain asked: “Does he wish he hadn’t said he had addressed the matter in full when he hadn’t?”

The Tory MP just said she hadn’t spoken to the PM about that particular matter.


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