Baker's Law

My last thoughts on the Nadim Zahawi affair. Some people would have criticised the PM whatever he did on this, my opinion is that the best way to ensure that you neither throw innocent people out of the airlock over allegations which might turn out to be untrue or unduly protect those who need to be held accountable over concerns which prove all too well-founded is to have a due process and apply it properly.

That is what Rishi Sunak did by asking Sir Laurie Magnus to investigate the concerns about former Party chairman Nadim Zahawi and acting promptly and decisively when Sir Laurie found that there had been a serious breach of the ministerial code.

It was also right to publish the letter from Sir Laurie and you can read it in full on the government website at

Letter from Sir Laurie Magnus to the Prime Minister, 29 January 2023 - GOV.UK (

This letter actually answers most of the questions being asked about the affair.

In many ways it is a great shame to lose someone from the government who had been a very effective minister, and I particularly pay tribute to the great job which Nadhim Zahawi did on the vaccine rollout, but we cannot hope to have a government run on ethical and professional lines if the ministerial code can be ignored with impunity.

Reading the letter from Sir Laurie linked to above it becomes clear that this is a case of Baker's law:

I don't believe that having a disagreement with HMRC over your tax affairs, or even making a mistake about how much is due, should necessarily be grounds for driving someone out of public life PROVIDED that when they become aware of the issue they pay what is due and are open and transparent about it. 

The breach of the ministerial code wasn't the careless error made years before Mr Zahawi became even an MP,  let alone Chancellor, and nor was it a failure to pay up after the issue was raised, which Mr Zahawi did when he settled with HMRC in September 2022. 

The breach of the ministerial code was a failure to meet the standards of prompt declaration of interests and of openness and transparency expected of ministers. In other words it was a classic example of Howard Baker's law quoted above; it was not the original issue which got him but the cover-up.

As I have made clear, I think that in the light of the findings by Sir Laurie, the PM did the right thing by sacking Nadim Zahawi, however much I may regret the loss of an able minister.

But before any more Labour MPs jump on the bandwagon of suggesting Nadhim Zahawi not just have been sacked from the government but should also resign as an MP, perhaps they should remember who else, six months ago, failed to fully complete a declaration of interests form in a timely manner and was found to have breached the MPs code of conduct as a result and had to apologise to the parliamentary standards commissioner.

Standards in public life must be improved in all parties, and not just used as a means of attacking our opponents.


Paul Holdsworth said…
"... we cannot hope to have a government run on ethical and professional lines if the ministerial code can be ignored with impunity."

It's an unpleasant truth that Braverman broke the ministerial code, was sacked, but then reinstated just six days later by Sunak - the very essence of ignoring the code with impunity.

So, no hope of an ethical, or even professional, government under the Tories.
Chris Whiteside said…
Not quite right.

Nadhim Zahawi was sacked.

Suella Braverman resigned.

The reason she gave was as follows:

"Earlier today, I sent an official document from my personal email to a trusted parliamentary colleague as part of policy engagement, and with the aim of garnering support for government policy on migration. This constitutes a technical infringement of the rules."

There was a lot more to it than that as a number of commentators pointed out in pieces such as the one in the Guardian which can be found at

It is not unknown for politicians in all parties to make a mistake and resign for it and later be brought back: I've forgotten how many times Peter Mandelson resigned in disgrace and was subsequently brought back into government but it was certainly more times than Braverman and after resigning for far more serious errors.
Paul Holdsworth said…
"later" be brought back? Sure, but six DAYS later?! That's the quintessence of breaking the ministerial code with impunity.

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