Who is Nadhim Zahawi?

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Nadhim Zahawi on 6 July 2022Image source, Reuters

Nadhim Zahawi has been sacked as Conservative Party chairman for "serious breaches" of the ministerial code after it emerged he paid a penalty to HMRC over unpaid tax.

Believed to be one of the richest politicians in the House of Commons, Mr Zahawi made his fortune after co-founding the online polling company YouGov.

The venture was a great success - but questions over the sale of shares in the company and whether this was taxed correctly prompted scrutiny of Mr Zahawi's financial affairs.

Mr Zahawi said he was confident he had "acted properly", but an inquiry by the prime minister's independent ethics adviser Sir Laurie Magnus was highly critical.

Before the issue hit the headlines, the 55-year-old was often relied upon as a solid media performer for the government and has held a number of high-profile roles, including vaccines minister and education secretary, as well as chancellor.

Despite his rapid rise in politics, leading one of the great offices of state might have been unthinkable for Mr Zahawi as a child.

"I must be one of the luckiest human beings on earth," the Stratford-upon-Avon MP said reflecting on his early years.

Born in Iraq in 1967 he could easily have been sent to fight in the 1980s Iran-Iraq War.

"I would have been drafted in to the Iraqi army, had to go to front line and probably die," he told Nick Robinson on the Political Thinking podcast last year.

Instead, he and his parents were forced to flee Iraq and he grew up in Britain.

His family had been influential in the country - his grandfather was the governor of the Central Bank of Iraq and his signature appeared on the country's banknotes.

However, when Saddam Hussein came to power in the late 1970s, they came under threat.

Mr Zahawi's father, a businessman, got a tip-off that the authorities were coming for him and quickly arranged to fly out.

'Traumatic memory'

His son has recalled the anxiety of watching the plane preparing to take off from Baghdad Airport.

After all the passengers had boarded, a military vehicle drove up to the plane. His mother was in tears as they saw a passenger being removed.

The passenger turned out not to be his father, but the man who had been sitting behind him on the aircraft.

Mr Zahawi described it as a "traumatic" childhood moment "stamped on his memory".

So instead of growing up in Iraq, Mr Zahawi grew up in Sussex. He was educated at private and comprehensive schools and became a keen equestrian.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The children's TV show Teletubbies provided the young Nadhim Zahawi with one of his early business ventures

But, as he was heading to university another disaster struck the family.

A business venture of his father's fell through, and he, in Mr Zahawi's words, "lost everything" except a brown Vauxhall car.

'Born organiser'

The young Nadhim Zahawi decided he would use the Vauxhall to become a minicab driver in order to help put food on the table.

However, his mother insisted on her son going to university and pawned her jewellery so he wouldn't have to worry about the finances.

After studying chemical engineering at University College London, he followed in his father's entrepreneurial footsteps and set up a firm selling Teletubbies merchandise - a company which attracted investment from the then-Conservative politician Jeffrey Archer.

Speaking to the BBC's Profile programme, Lord Archer remembered the young Nadhim Zahawi as "a born organiser".

"If you said, 'I need six taxis, three aeroplanes and a double decker bus, all in 30 minutes', he went and did it," he said.

Image caption,
Jeffrey Archer introduced Mr Zahawi to key Conservative figures

Through Lord Archer's parties, Mr Zahawi met influential Conservative figures including the former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

In 1994 he became a Conservative councillor in Wandsworth, south London and three years later unsuccessfully stood for Parliament in Erith and Thamesmead.

When Lord Archer launched his campaign to become London mayor, Mr Zahawi joined his team.

But the candidate was forced to pull out of the race, and Mr Zahawi had to look for alternative work.

Expenses scandal

In 2000 he founded YouGov, along with another ex-member of team Archer - Stephan Shakespeare.

Ten years later, after it had become a hugely successful global company, Mr Zahawi stood down from YouGov to run for Parliament.

In 2010 he was successful, winning the safe Conservative seat of Stratford-Upon-Avon.

Image source, PA Media
Image caption,
The Warwickshire constituency of Stratford-Upon-Avon has been held by the Conservatives for over 100 years

Parliament was still reeling from the MPs expenses scandal, and Mr Zahawi soon became embroiled in his own transgression when it emerged he had claimed expenses to supply his stables with electricity.

He said he was "mortified by this mistake" and paid back the money.

It didn't hinder his political progress too much and in January 2018 then-PM Theresa May made him an education minister.

However, Mr Zahawi again found himself in trouble, this time for attending a gala held by the men-only Presidents Club.

An undercover reporter for the Financial Times had revealed the hostesses had been subjected to groping and lewd comments. Mr Zahawi said the event made him "extremely uncomfortable" and he left early.

Nevertheless, his attendance at the event earned him a reprimand from Downing Street.

Vaccines minister

Mr Zahawi remained a minister when Boris Johnson came to power in July 2019, moving from the education to the business department.

Then in November 2020, in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, he was handed what he has called "the most important job I'll ever do" - the position of vaccines minister.

Image source, UK government

For almost 11 months he oversaw the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine programme, and was able to boast a fair amount of success, especially when the UK raced ahead of many other countries.

Seen as a "safe pair of hands", he came to the education secretary role following the sacking of Gavin Williamson, who was unpopular with the public after the exams fiasco during the pandemic.

As the country's new man in charge of education he faced the unprecedented challenge of ensuring a whole generation of children caught up after having missed months of school as a result of the pandemic.

When Rishi Sunak dramatically quit as chancellor in July 2022, Mr Zahawi was given the role - one of the most important positions in the government.

Mr Zahawi had been loyal to Mr Johnson, frequently defending him in media interviews.

However, after days of turmoil and mass ministerial resignations, he called on Mr Johnson to leave. A few hours later Mr Johnson had announced his resignation.

Liz Truss replaced him as prime minister and made Mr Zahawi minister for equalities and chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

He wasn't in the job for long. When Rishi Sunak took over as PM in October he moved Mr Zahawi to Conservative Party chairman and minister without portfolio, attending cabinet as part of his role.

Media reports about his tax affairs first emerged when he was appointed chancellor last July. But further revelations this month piled pressure on Mr Zahawi.

Now, after Mr Sunak asked his independent ethics adviser to investigate, he is no longer party chairman.

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