Politics

Minister's media round defending Nadhim Zahawi was one disaster after another

Tory minister claims Sunak 'acted quickly and decisively' with Zahawi investigation

Spare a thought for Chris Philp today, if you can.

Drawing the short straw and being called upon to defend Nadhim Zahawi amid his tax row can't be much fun, but that is the hand he was dealt and so he put on his best suit and tie and schlepped around broadcast studios this morning.

And it was one catastrophe after another.

Before we begin - a little recap into Zahawi's 'mare. After days of rumours, the Tory party chairman confirmed he had made a payment to settle a dispute with HMRC over his use of an offshore company to hold shares in the polling firm YouGov but didn't say how much he coughed up.

This hasn't settled murky political waters so prime minister Rishi Sunak has asked his independent ethics adviser Sir Laurie Magnus to look into Zahawi's tax affairs, saying there were "questions that need answering" over the case.

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This brings us back to Philp then and his unsuccessful quest to calm the media down. On the BBC's Today Programme, he was asked whether it was "acceptable" for a senior government figure "to be negligent in their tax affairs," with Mishal Husain saying Zahawi's admission he had been "careless" was comparable to negligence.

Philp quibbled about the definition of "carelessness" and said he didn't want to "speculate" on what happened.

"I don't know precisely what form that carelessness took... and that's why we need the investigation..." he said.

"I don't know exactly what happened," he repeated. "Let's find out the facts."

"I don't know"... great response from the government. Really makes us feel like we are in safe hands.

Meanwhile on BBC Breakfast, he claimed Sunak is clear that "ethics and integrity are really important to him". "Where issues have arisen, he hasn't tried to brush them under the carpet or ignore them or hope they go away -"

"Well he did, he said it was all dealt with last week," presenter Jon Kay replied in a slam-dunk move. Ouch.

"As soon as it became clear there were still questions over the weekend... he responded to that by launching an independent investigation," Philp replied.

Things didn't go much better on Sky News when he claimed again that Sunak had acted "quickly" and "decisively" over the row and he was asked in response what had changed in the last week when the prime minister defended Zahawi at PMQs.

And when he faced Nick Ferrari on LBC, he was asked: "Which is more embarrassing a former prime minister who needs to use the chairman of the BBC as a financial fixer [referencing former prime minister Boris Johnson's row] or a former Chancellor who can't get his tax sums right?"

The home office minister replied by talking about how many police officers he is hiring and how great the UK is because if in doubt? Distract.

So spare a thought for Chris Philp. He's had a tough day.

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