Former chancellor Zahawi in talks to chair Barclays' Very Group

Nadhim Zahawi, the former chancellor, is in talks about chairing the biggest remaining part of the Barclay family's business empire, fuelling speculation that he will join a mass exodus of Conservative MPs at the general election.

Sky News has learnt that Mr Zahawi, the MP for Stratford-on-Avon since 2010, is among the candidates to become the next chairman of Very Group, the Liverpool-based online retail and financial services company.

City sources said this weekend that discussions were ongoing, but cautioned that there was no certainty that Mr Zahawi would take the job.

If he does accept it, the former Tory leadership candidate would be expected to announce that he is joining the likes of Theresa May, the ex-prime minister, and former Conservative Party chairman Sir Brandon Lewis in standing down at the forthcoming election.

Mr Zahawi has been playing a role as an intermediary between the Barclay family and the Abu Dhabi-based investor IMI Investments since its interest in participating in a bid for The Daily Telegraph emerged last summer.

He had been tipped to chair the newspaper group if RedBird IMI, a vehicle fronted by former CNN president Jeff Zucker, had been successful in buying it.

However, a fierce backlash from Conservative parliamentarians prompted Downing Street to intervene and amend legislation that would prohibit ownership of British newspaper titles by investors connected to a foreign state.

RedBird IMI is now expected to seek to conduct a further auction of the Telegraph newspapers and The Spectator magazine.

The Barclays, who used to own London's Ritz hotel, have already lost control of several of their corporate assets.

Last month, Yodel Group, their parcel delivery business, narrowly averted insolvency when it was sold to a consortium backed by executives at Shift, a rival.

Sky News revealed on Friday that the parent company of ArrowXL, another delivery firm, had been forced into administration by HSBC, its principal lender.

Half of the £1.2bn loan that the Barclays took from RedBird IMI and IMI was secured against their media assets, with the bulk of the remainder said to have been secured against Very Group.

At various points in the last decade, the Telegraph proprietors have explored a sale of the online shopping business, having valued it at over £3bn.

However, they have refused to sell it after prospective buyers failed to meet their price expectations.

Last month, Very Group confirmed that Dirk Van den Berghe was stepping down as its chairman after two years.

Aidan Barclay, who also chaired the Telegraph for years, is now acting as its interim chair.

The company also said it had secured £125m of new debt funding from Carlyle Global Credit and IMI.

Boasting 4.4 million customers, Very Group trades under the Very and Littlewoods brands, and sells a broad range of clothing, electrical goods and home furnishings products, anchored by a large consumer credit operation.

It said its recent performance had been "resilient".

A co-founder of YouGov, the market research and polling company, Mr Zahawi is said to be a strong contender for the Very Group job owing to his digital business credentials.

In addition to a brief stint as chancellor of the exchequer, he has held other ministerial posts at the Department of Health and Social Care, where he oversaw the vaccine rollout during the COVID pandemic, the Department for Business and as chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

Very Group and Mr Zahawi both declined to comment this weekend.