Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is in trouble

Rishi Sunak, Britain’s Prime Minister, speaks during Prime Minister’s Question Time in the House of Commons on Wednesday.


(Photo: dpa)

London When Rishi Sunak moved into 10 Downing Street as British Prime Minister in October 2022, promised a government with “integrity, professionalism and responsibility at all levels.” That was the end of the numerous scandals of his predecessor Boris Johnson did you mean. Three months later, Sunak and his cabinet are deadlocked again in a quagmire of affairs, raising considerable doubt in London about the prime minister’s leadership.

This time the president of the Conservative Party, Nadhim Zahawi, is in the pillory. The 55-year-old was targeted by tax investigators from his own ministry during his brief tenure as finance minister last summer. The reason: Zahawi had apparently failed to properly tax the proceeds from the sale of his shares in the Yougov opinion research institute, which he co-founded. Both parties agreed to pay an additional tax plus a penalty of about five million pounds (equivalent to about 5.7 million euros).

The fact that a Chancellor of the Exchequer is attempting to evade tax in Gibraltar with the help of a family trust should already be a blow to many Britons. The fact that Zahawi, however, was appointed party leader by Sunak and is still at the cabinet table makes the ugly affair a problem for the prime minister. During Wednesday’s parliamentary question time, Sunak claimed he knew nothing about the fiscal sins of his party friend.

However, there are “questions that need to be answered.” Therefore, the head of government ordered an investigation by his ethics adviser, Sir Laurie Magnus, to “get to the bottom of the matter”. Until then, Sunak made it clear in the lower house that he would not fire Zahawi.

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Leading Conservatives such as former party leader William Hague disagree, calling on the prime minister to make a quick decision. The fact that Sunak himself had to justify a few months ago the special tax status of his wife Akshata Murty, who lives in India, does not help matters.

>> Read here: Britain is a kingdom with no plans for the future – a comment

For opposition Labor Party leader Keir Starmer, the new issue is a steep template: “Does the prime minister think that someone who tries to evade taxes can’t also be responsible for the country’s taxes?” Starmer asked Sunak. . . The Labor leader interpreted the prime minister’s refusal to respond as a sign of weakness in the leadership.

Open questions on taxes for Conservative President Nadhim Zahawi

Nadhim Zahawi, leader of the Conservative Party, leaves the party headquarters in London.

(Photo: AP)

And this is where Starmer hits a sore spot, as it’s not the first time the prime minister has hesitated to hold his fellow party members accountable for their misconduct. Sunak appointed controversial Home Secretary Suella Braverman to his cabinet, although the Tory politician had resigned shortly before over the disclosure of confidential documents. He also left his deputy prime minister Dominic Raab unscathed, despite massive accusations from employees that he was a “thug”.

The fact that Sunak cannot be as strong a leader as he would like also has to do with his political weakness. Although the Tories have a 67-seat majority in the House of Commons, the party is divided on many issues. Sunak recently had to give in to demands from around 50 faction members who wanted to significantly toughen the new Internet security law. The prime minister had previously bowed to the will of Conservative rebels in the dispute over binding targets for the construction of houses and apartments and had given up his opposition to new onshore wind turbines.

The BBC chief helped with a private loan for Boris Johnson

For the opposition, these are all signs of weakness for a Conservative party that has been in power for 13 years but trails Labor by more than 20 percentage points in opinion polls. Even conservative voices like The Spectator magazine compare the scandal- and conflict-plagued decline of the Conservatives to the last days of former Prime Minister John Major’s government before Tony Blair’s landslide victory in 1997.

>> Read also: Britain in a dilemma: Inflation is falling, but the fight for higher wages is intensifying

The sins of his predecessors mean that Sunak cannot escape the scandalous image of his party. As recently broke, former Prime Minister Johnson arranged a private loan of £800,000 with the help of current BBC Chairman Richard Sharp. Soon after, Johnson recommended the former Goldman Sachs banker for the BBC’s top job.

More: Violations of online protections: London threatens tech bosses with jail terms

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