After a weekend of bloody revelations led by firsts from The Guardian, Sunak announced on Monday that an independent ethics adviser will review the tax affairs of Nadhim Zahawi, the Conservative Party chairman and former Chancellor of the Treasury, the British name for Chancellor of the Exchequer and one of the four ‘Large State Offices’.
Hours later on Monday, Britain’s public appointments commissioner announced that his office would look into the appointment of Richard Sharp as chairman of the BBC, a position that would require Johnson’s approval.
This investigation comes after the Sunday Times reported that Sharp was central to helping Johnson find someone to guarantee a personal loan, up to $1 million, that Johnson sought when he was prime minister.
In addition to these weighty matters, Sunak himself was fined last week, a police fine for not wearing his seatbelt while making a video post on social media in the back seat of a government vehicle.
The seatbelt violation resonated with the public in part because this was Sunak’s second offense with a fixed penalty. He was previously fined for attending one of the meetings at 10 Downing Street, in violation of the strict lockdown rules in place at the time. That party was to celebrate Johnson’s birthday.
Last week it was revealed that Zahawi managed to negotiate his tax arrears with His Majesty’s Revenue & Customs – the UK’s Internal Revenue Service – to pay millions of pounds in outstanding tax liabilities, plus a hefty fine, while he was chancellor.
Clean government campaigners and leaders of the opposition Labor Party were quick to call on Zahawi to resign – or Sunak to sack him.
“This pathetic attempt to shirk responsibility is just not good enough,” Angela Rayner, the deputy Labor leader, said, stressing that Zahawi was Chancellor of the Treasury – in charge of spending tax revenue – as he negotiated a settlement with the tax collectors.
“You don’t need an ethics consultant to tell you this is unacceptable,” Rayner said.
According to the Guardian, Zahawi owed taxes on capital gains after selling shares in YouGov, the polling agency he co-founded before being elected as a legislator.
Zahawi paid the back taxes he owed, as well as a 30 percent fine, for a total settlement of $6 million, the paper reported.
The 56-year-old politician, who was born in Iraq and fled to Britain with his family as a boy, described his late payment as a “negligent and unintentional” mistake.
Similarly, Sharp, the BBC chairman, stressed that he was not directly involved in a loan for Johnson.
“I was not involved in a loan or arranging a guarantee, and I have not arranged any financing,” Sharp said in an internal email to the BBC on Monday (which the BBC later published).
Sharp helped arrange a loan guarantee for Johnson in 2020, according to the Sunday Times. The guarantor, according to the Times, was Sam Blyth, a Canadian businessman and distant cousin of Johnson. Sharp, a 56-year-old former Goldman Sachs banker and major Tory donor, was appointed chairman of the BBC in January 2021.
Sharp confirmed to the BBC that he introduced Blyth to the cabinet secretary, Simon Case, the top government official and a top adviser to the prime minister, “because Sam wanted to support Boris Johnson.” Blyth, Sharp and Johnson also dined together at the Prime Minister’s official country house, Checkers, but Sharp denied that Johnson’s finances were discussed.
John Nicolson, a legislator from the Scottish National Party, told the House of Commons the affair was “all banana republic”, according to Sky News.
Nicolson complained that Sharp, when vetted by parliament for the top job at the BBC, failed to tell the panel about “his role in getting the man who gave him a huge loan”.
On Monday, Johnson defended Sharp as “a great and wise man.”
“But he knows absolutely nothing about my personal finances,” Johnson said. “I can tell you 100 percent ding-dang for sure.”
Speaking to Sky News, Johnson called the affair “a load of complete nonsense – absolute nonsense”.
He said: “This is just another example of the BBC disappearing from its own foundation.”
For his part, the BBC chairman called the case “a distraction to the organisation, which I regret”.