James Cleverly Dodges Awkward Questions On Nadhim Zahawi Saying He Was Out Shopping

Laura Kuenssberg and James Cleverly
Laura Kuenssberg and James Cleverly

Laura Kuenssberg and James Cleverly

James Cleverly managed to swerve awkward questions about a Tory colleague by saying he was out shopping on Saturday.

The foreign secretary drew the short straw on Sunday as he was sent out to represent the government in media interviews amid a fresh round of scandals.

Cleverly was grilled over Tory party chairman Nadhim Zahawi’s tax affairs and completely separate allegations surrounding a loan Boris Johnson received.

Zahawi is facing calls to quit over allegations that he tried to avoid tax and has now had to pay it back as part of a multi-million pound settlement.

He has insisted the matter was resolved and that all his tax affairs were “up to date” when he was appointed Tory party chairman by Rishi Sunak in October.

However, opposition parties have demanded an independent probe as well as the publication of all of Zahawi’s correspondence with HMRC.

Pressed on the controversy on Sunday, Cleverly said he was unable to answer because he was carrying out his duties as foreign secretary and “doing some shopping”.

He told the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg programme: “I spent the whole of last week in the United States of America and in Canada.

“I arrived back in the UK early on Friday morning, on an overnight flight, before then going on to engage with my constituents through Friday and having a bit of a rest and doing some shopping on Saturday.”

He added: “The decision as to how much detail to put in the public domain is rightly one for Nadhim himself.”

Zahawi, who attends Sunak’s Cabinet, released a statement to “address some of the confusion about my finances”.

However, the statement raised further questions, including whether Zahawi negotiated the settlement when he was chancellor and in charge of the country’s taxation.

Claims started emerging when Zahawi was made chancellor by Boris Johnson last summer, with reports suggesting Cabinet Office officials had alerted the then-prime minister to the HMRC dispute.

Zahawi did not disclose the size of the settlement – reported to be an estimated £4.8 million including a 30% penalty – or confirm whether he paid a fine.

Tax lawyer Dan Neidle, who has been working to expose the minister’s tax affairs, estimated that he owed £3.7 million.

In an unusual move, Zahawi did not take founder shares when he set up YouGov, saying in his statement that his father took shares “in exchange for some capital and his invaluable guidance”.

In a statement, he said: “Twenty one years later, when I was being appointed chancellor of the Exchequer, questions were being raised about my tax affairs. I discussed this with the Cabinet Office at the time.

“Following discussions with HMRC, they agreed that my father was entitled to founder shares in YouGov, though they disagreed about the exact allocation. They concluded that this was a ‘careless and not deliberate’ error.

“So that I could focus on my life as a public servant, I chose to settle the matter and pay what they said was due, which was the right thing to do.”

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