What's next for Nadhim Zahawi following his political downfall?
30th January 2023

After coming to Britain as a Kurdish refugee to becoming a multi-millionaire Cabinet minister known as Westminster’s ‘Del Boy’ wheeler dealer… what is next for Nadhim Zahawi following his political downfall?

  • Nadhim Zahawi has been sacked as Tory chairman for breaking ministerial rules
  • He came to Britain in the 1970s as a Kurdish refugee fleeing Saddam Hussein
  • He has previously described being ‘unable to speak a word of English’ aged 11
  • The 55-year-old made a fortune in business before becoming a Tory MP in 2010 

Nadhim Zahawi’s political rise was extraordinary given he arrived in Britain in the 1970s as a Kurdish refugee fleeing Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime in Iraq.

He has previously described how, aged 11, he sat at the back of a classroom in the UK ‘unable to speak a word of English’.

Mr Zahawi went on to make a fortune founding polling firm YouGov from an office in his garden shed, as well as building a £100million property portfolio.

The 55-year-old has previously been compared to Del Boy from Only Fools and Horses and a contestant trying to impress Lord Sugar on The Apprentice. 

His political career saw him first enter Parliament as a Tory MP in 2010 before becoming Chancellor little more than 12 years later.

But he is now in the political wilderness after a spectacular downfall as a result of a fierce row over his tax affairs.

Nadhim Zahawi has been sacked as Tory chairman by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak after being found to have committed a ‘serious breach’ of ministerial rules

He has been sacked as Tory chairman by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak after being found to have committed a ‘serious breach’ of ministerial rules.

It has led to questions about what Mr Zahawi might do now. Could he perhaps quit as an MP and return to business?

Or will the married father-of-three look to rehabilitate his political reputation from the backbenches of the House of Commons?

The Stratford-on-Avon MP gave a hint of his immediate ambitions in a letter to the PM, in which he pledged his support to Mr Sunak ‘in the coming years’.

For someone who is a keen showjumper, he might view his current travails as just another of life’s hurdles to clear.

Mr Zahawi is married to wife Lana (pictured together in June 2021) and they have three children

A younger Mr Zahawi is pictured in his flat in Brompton, West London, with designer Broosk Saib in a flat he bought from Dutch supermodel Karen Mulder

Friends have said that Mr Zahawi’s ‘real blood and passion was politics’ – but before being elected as MP for Stratford-Upon-Avon in 2010 he dedicated himself to making a ‘f**k load of money’.

Another friend in Parliament said: ‘He’s a sort of lovable wheeler-dealer type’, adding there is ‘a bit of Del Boy about him’.

But it was not always plain sailing for Mr Zahawi in his business career.

An early venture as a young entrepreneur – selling Teletubbies clothing at the height of the show’s fame – went bust and backers, including former Tory grandee Jeffrey Archer, lost their money.

But he would become one of the richest politicians in the House of Commons after he helped found YouGov with friend Stephan Shakespeare, having studied chemical engineering at University College London. 

In 2002 he took a gamble on ITV’s Pop Idol – the biggest show on TV at the time – that would make him even more money in a story friends use to explain his mindset in business and now politics.

Before the final between Will Young and Gareth Gates, the pundits were convinced that it would be Gates that would romp home.

But YouGov polling said otherwise, and he put thousands of pounds on Will Young to win, which he did, allowing the Chancellor to beat the bookies and pundits and makes a fortune. 

Former YouGov head of political research Joe Twyman told Politico: ‘It tells you a lot about him. He really believed what we were doing was right, he was willing to take the risk, he enjoyed the showmanship and the fun of it all — but also he wanted to make f*** load of money.’

Not only did Mr Zahawi win the bet, he also used it to push YouGov’s credibility and three years later he is said to have made £5.7million when it floated.

The success of the UK’s Covid jabs rollout, which Mr Zahawi oversaw as vaccines minister, later led to Mr Zahawi’s promotion to the Cabinet 

Former YouGov president Peter Kellner (right) has said Mr Zahawi would have made a ‘perfect’ contestant for TV game show The Apprentice

Mr Zahawi has been described in the past as a calculated risk-taker.

‘He isn’t reckless. He makes sure the odds are in his favour before he makes a bet’, the insider said.

Former YouGov president Peter Kellner has said he would have made a ‘perfect’ contestant for TV game show The Apprentice, if the show starring Lord Sugar had existed in the 1980s and 1990s.

‘He was very sharp and shrewd in business terms’, he said.

He added it was no surprise Mr Zahawi was a success as vaccines minister during the Covid pandemic because ‘in a sense, the vaccine job is like an Alan Sugar challenge writ very large’.

Mr Zahawi was privately-educated at King’s College School in West London and University College London where he studied chemical engineering.

He became MP for Stratford-on-Avon in 2010 – the first Kurdish Iraqi to be elected to Parliament.

His first Government role was as children’s minister from January 2018 to July 2019, during which time he attended the controversial Presidents Club Ball.

He was said to have been given a dressing down by the chief whip after complaints of sexism and harassment at the all-male gathering for the business elite.

He was appointed business and industry minister in Boris Johnson’s Government, before taking on the role of vaccines minister in November 2020.

The success of the UK’s Covid jabs rollout saw Mr Zahawi promoted to the Cabinet as Education Secretary in September 2021, when he replaced the embattled Sir Gavin Williamson.

After Rishi Sunak’s dramatic resignation as Mr Johnson’s Chancellor in July last year, Mr Zahawi stepped in as Treasury chief.

It was, ultimately, this appointment that led to his downfall.

Although he ended up only being Chancellor for two months, until Liz Truss replaced Mr Johnson as PM, his move to No11 coincided with scrutiny of his tax affairs.

An investigation by Mr Sunak’s ethics adviser, Sir Laurie Magnus, has now found Mr Zahawi made no reference to an HMRC investgation into him when he took over as Treasury chief.

Sir Laurie also criticised Mr Zahawi for failing to make proper disclosure of his tax dispute – or the fact he paid a penalty to HMRC – when he was subsequently appointed Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster by Ms Truss in September, or Tory chairman by Mr Sunak in October.

Mr Zahawi in 2004 after being knocked off his moped on Albert Embankment – before the moped was given a parking ticket

Mr Zahawi kisses Boris Johnson’s wife Carrie at the 2019 Conservative Party Conference in Manchester in September 2019

Mr Zahawi walks through the Birmingham Conference Centre with then prime minister David Cameron in 2010

Father-of-three Mr Zahawi pictured in October 1996 when he was a businessman

Prior to his ministerial career, during the MPs expenses scandal, Mr Zahawi was forced to apologise for claiming taxpayers’ money to heat his stables on his Warwickshire estate.

He has also previously faced scrutiny over his second jobs, before entering Government. 

He was appointed chief strategy officer at Gulf Keystone Petroleum in 2015 and reported outside earnings which were the equivalent of an annual salary of £765,000. 

He received a salary of £20,125 a month, for working between eight and 21 hours per week. 

In addition to that, he received a string of bonuses between January and June 2016, adding up to £78,246.38, plus a payment of £52,325 made in September 2015 for 210 hours work, backdated to July last year.

Previously, Zahawi acted as an adviser to Afren, another oil company that went under in 2015.

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