Cabinet goes to Checkers as minister says Nadhim Zahawi’s inquiry will be carried out in 10 days

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ishi Sunak is expected to be joined by an embattled Nadhim Zahawi when the cabinet meets for a day out at the prime minister’s mansion.

The trip to Checkers in Buckinghamshire comes after days of headlines about Mr Zahawi’s tax affairs, which saw the Conservative Party chairman subject to an ethics investigation.

Mel Stride, Minister for Work and Pensions, said the result of that inquiry, which the prime minister announced on Monday, could take as little as 10 days.

It means the conclusions could be on Mr. Sunak’s desk by the end of next week.

Mr Sunak ordered an investigation by Sir Laurie Magnus, his independent adviser for the interests of ministers, into whether Mr Zahawi was breaking ministerial rules in relation to the estimated £4.8 million bill he settled with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) when he was Chancellor.

Mr Stride, who told ITV’s Peston program on Wednesday that rumors suggested the inquiry could be carried out within 10 days, said it would be “not atypical” for Sir Laurie to operate in that time frame.

He added: “I can’t be signed to an arrangement where I don’t know all the details.

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“But the good news is that in about ten days we will hear from the ethics adviser, who will report to the prime minister, the prime minister will then have the facts and can judge exactly those.”

Lord Barwell, Theresa May’s chief of staff at Downing Street, said the lack of public defense for Zahawi suggested his role could be in jeopardy.

The Conservative colleague told Channel 4 News: “I think when you see other ministers unwilling to defend a colleague and when you see No 10 confirm that ‘we didn’t know these facts when the Prime Minister said that’ it gives you a indication from which direction the wind is blowing.”

When asked if the “game might be over”, the former MP seemed to nod in agreement.

Mr Sunak acknowledged during the prime minister’s questions that he had not gotten the full picture of the finance minister without portfolio when he told MPs last week that Mr Zahawi had given a “full” report.

The prime minister also said it could be “politically expedient” to sack the former vaccines minister, but stressed it was important that a “due process” be followed.

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Commerce Secretary Andrew Bowie insisted that Sunak would sack his party chairman if he is found to have broken the ministerial code, but Downing Street said changes to the code mean this would not automatically be the case.

The cabinet outing on Thursday, which Downing Street said would focus on the prime minister’s political priorities, has been called a “hideout day” by opposition parties.

Downing Street has given few details about what the day of absence would entail, but the prime minister’s official spokesman said cabinet ministers would “focus on the five priority areas” that Sunak talked about in his New Year’s speech.

The leader of the Tory party made his five pledges earlier this month, including halving inflation by the end of the year and reducing waiting lists on the NHS.

One of the issues Mr Sunak pointed out in his January 4 speech was anti-social behaviour, highlighting the scourge of discarded “nitrous oxide canisters in children’s playgrounds”.

According to The Times, ministers are then preparing to ban the sale and possession of what is known as nitrous oxide as part of a crackdown on anti-social behaviour.

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Under the proposals, drug abuse laws would be revised so that people caught using nitrous oxide in public could be prosecuted, the paper reported.

The Home Office has been approached for comment on the reported changes.

Checkers will also host a political cabinet – where ministers discuss political matters without officials present.

It was unclear whether Mr Zahawi, in his role as Tory chairman, would make a presentation to colleagues ahead of local elections in May.

The Liberal Democrats accused the cabinet of evading effective oversight as the country grapples with a series of crises.

“While Rishi Sunak and his scandal-stricken ministers are having a ‘hideaway’ day at Checkers, the rest of the country is suffering from this endless conservative chaos,” said Lib Dem deputy leader Daisy Cooper.

“The NHS is in crisis and people are struggling to pay their rent or mortgage, but Conservative ministers are too busy fighting to save their own careers.

“Sunak’s promise to rule with integrity is now in tatters. He can’t even handle the many crises his cabinet is facing, let alone the huge challenges facing the country.”

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