Politics

Who is Nadhim Zahawi, Boris Johnson’s new Chancellor?

What qualifications does Nadhim Zahawi have that make him suitable to be chancellor - and what was that scandal with his stables?

Nadhim Zahawi relaxes in a suit on a chair next to the chancellor's famous red dispatch box

Chancellor of the Exchequer Nadhim Zahawi in his office of No11 Downing Street. Picture by Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street

Nadhim Zahawi, former education secretary, Iraqi refugee and co-founder of YouGov, has been promoted to the second highest position in the British government after a double resignation rocked Downing Street. 

Former Chancellor Rishi Sunak handed his resignation to the prime minister late on Tuesday night, citing fundamentally different approaches, and ending with the line “we cannot continue like this”. 

With ministers dropping like flies, Johnson has had to move quickly to reshuffle his cabinet. Zahawi has denied that he threatened to quit as education secretary if he wasn’t given the top job, edging out Liz Truss for the position. 

“I think the team that is in government today is the team that will deliver,” he told Sky News, hours after accepting the position. 

So, who is Britain’s new finance man? Here are your questions answered. 

What is Nadhim Zahawi’s background?

Born in Baghdad, Iraq, Zahawi’s family fled the reign of Saddam Hussein and was granted sanctuary in the UK as refugees. He has spoken about the terrifying moment he sat with his family on a plane ready to leave Baghdad, waiting to see whether his father would be removed by the authorities. 

His family remained on the plane and made it to the UK where they settled in Sussex. Zahawi went to both private and comprehensive schools, the BBC has reported

He enjoyed a career in marketing before co-founding polling company YouGov in his early thirties and becoming an MP 10 years later, in 2010. That wasn’t his first foray into politics, however: he served as a councillor in Putney south London, for three terms between 1994 and 2006, and first stood as a candidate for parliament in 1997, losing to Labour.

What is Nadhim Zahawi’s voting record?

Since becoming an MP in 2010, Zahawi has almost always toed the party line when voting in parliament, including for reducing spending on welfare benefits, and against bankers’ bonus taxes. 

He has always voted for equal gay rights, and against smoking bans when his peers’ votes have been mixed. 

How is Nadhim Zahawi qualified to be chancellor?

A chemical engineering graduate from University College London, Zahawi worked as a marketing director before co-founding statistics research company YouGov. He was YouGov’s CEO from 2005 to 2010, when he left to become MP for Stratford-upon-Avon. According to the Evening Standard, Zahawi sold his shares in YouGov for £1.2 million.

As a government minister, Zahawi became the first ever Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for COVID-19 Vaccine Deployment, and became education secretary in 2021. 

What kind of chancellor will Nadhim Zahawi be?

‘High growth, low tax’ has summed up Zahawi’s plans for his role as chancellor so far. 

“The most important thing is to rebuild the economy post-pandemic and to get growth going again, and tax cuts,” he told Sky News’ Kay Burley.

“We’re delivering the first tax cut in a decade today. I’m determined to do more.”

While the government had promised to raise corporation tax rate from 19 per cent to 25 per cent for large companies next April, Zahawi has said he wants to make the UK one “of the most competitive countries in the world for investment.”

“I know that boards around the world, when they make investment decisions, they’re long-term, and the one tax they can compare globally is corporation tax,” he continued. 

Focusing on “fiscal responsibility”, Zahawi suggested that increasing public sector pay could push up inflation, and therefore he is wary to do so. 

“The first thing we’ve got to do is make sure that we are really careful about — whether it’s public sector pay — that inflation doesn’t continue to be fuelled.”

As education secretary, Zahawi had called for teachers to get pay rises to avoid strike action, and has said he will “”look at the recommendations from the pay review bodies across the board” when considering workers in other public sectors. 

Does Nadhim Zahawi have a second job?

His various extra-curricular roles when he first entered parliament led to him being named Britain’s second highest earning MP in 2017, by Business Insider. 

MPs are allowed to hold second jobs but ministers are not. Zahawi left his role at Gulf Keystone Petroleum in 2018 when he became a government minister at the Department for Education.

Zahawi was paid £1,000 an hour by the oil company, The Mirror has reported, banking a total of £1.3 million from the company in the three years he spent as its chief strategy officer. 

The new chancellor resigned his position as director of the consultancy he set up with his wife, Zahawi & Zahawi Ltd, in 2018, meaning earnings made through the company do not need to be reported to parliament. His wife Lana Saib holds 75 per cent of shares in the company. 

What does Nadhim Zahawi’s expenses record look like – and what was the scandal with his stables?

Zahawi was one of the MPs caught up in the 2013 MPs expenses scandal which found the politicians were claiming  huge amounts of tax payer money for personal expenses, such as energy bills on their second homes and — famously — a duck house in the pond of Tory MP Peter Viggers. 

Zahawi claimed £5,822.27 in expenses to cover the electricity supplied to the stables on his estate in Warwickshire.

Once the allegations were brought to light he promised to repay the money, which was the most claimed of all the 340 MPs who have used parliamentary expenses to heat their second homes.  

In a statement posted on his website, he said: “Since last week’s coverage of my energy bills I have been looking into them further and can confirm that all claims for heating fuel relate purely to my second home.

“However I have made a mistake with my electricity claims.

“On investigation I have discovered that the electricity supply for a mobile home located in the stable yard and for the stables themselves was linked to my house.

“Whilst a meter was installed in the stable yard I have only been receiving one bill, it was wrong to assume I was receiving two and to have not checked this sooner.

“I am mortified by this mistake and apologise unreservedly for it.

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