Zahawi 'not tarnished' in Tory leadership race for serving in Boris Johnson's cabinet

12 July 2022, 08:12 | Updated: 19 July 2022, 06:51

Lewis: Zahawi not 'tarnished' by serving in Johnson's cabinet

By Asher McShane

As the Tory leadership race hots up, former NI secretary Brandon Lewis has said the new Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi has not been "tarnished" as a candidate for the top job by serving in Boris Johnson's cabinet.

Mr Lewis has endorsed current Chancellor of the Exchequer Nadhim Zahawi’s bid to become the new leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister.

Speaking to Nick Ferrari at Breakfast today, Mr Lewis said serving in Mr Johnson's cabinet “hasn’t tarnished” him in the race, adding: "He has a passion for and belief in public duty. That’s what drives him to want to be Prime Minister.”

He said Mr Zahawi has "got the numbers” to advance to the next stage of the contest, saying he had more than the 20 needed, adding he was "confident Nadhim will get the signatures today," and "we are in a good position going forward."

Brandon Lewis says Zahawi will get the votes to run in leadership

Mr Lewis said the chancellor is a "Thoroughly decent man who has a track record of getting things done".

He accused rivals of ‘throwing dirt around’ to smear him.

“If he is in the final two he will publish his accounts and tax returns retrospectively," Mr Lewis said.

Leadership favourite Rishi Sunak is set to launch his bid to become prime minister with a pledge to cut taxes - but only once inflation has been brought back under control.

Read more: Tory timetable for new PM announced: Contenders to need backing of at least 20 colleagues

Nick Ferrari questions Nadhim Zahawi's finances

At his campaign launch event on Tuesday, the former chancellor will insist he has a plan to deal with the economic "headwinds" the country is facing, saying it is a matter of "when" not "if" the tax burden starts to fall.

He will receive heavyweight support from another ex-chancellor, Lord Lamont, who said Mr Sunak had the courage to take the "tough decisions" needed to deal the "extremely serious" economic situation.

Meanwhile, former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt is promising to increase defence spending while his fellow contender Tom Tugendhat will set out more details of his economic approach.

Nominations for the election open and close on Tuesday, with candidates requiring the support of 20 fellow MPs to make it onto the ballot - a hurdle some of the 11 hoping to stand may struggle to overcome.

Mr Sunak - who has the most declarations of support so far - is alone among the contenders to succeed Boris Johnson in not promising immediate tax cuts if he wins.

He has come under attack from allies of the Prime Minister who believe his announcement last week that he was quitting helped trigger the slew of resignations which forced Mr Johnson to admit his time was up.

Brexit Opportunities Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg has described him scathingly as the "much-lamented socialist chancellor" who had put up taxes while failing to curb inflation.

The Times reported that Mr Rees-Mogg along with two other close allies of Mr Johnson - Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries and Education Secretary James Cleverly - are set to declare their support for Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.

In his address, Mr Sunak will defend his record while seeking to make a virtue of his willingness to confront difficult economic realities in the wake of the pandemic.

"We need a return to traditional Conservative economic values - and that means honesty and responsibility, not fairy tales," he will say.

"I have had to make some of the most difficult choices in my life when I was chancellor, in particular how to deal with our debt and borrowing after Covid.

"I have never hidden away from those, and I certainly won't pretend now that the choices I made, and the things I voted for, were somehow not necessary. Whilst this may be politically inconvenient, it is the truth.

"My message to the party and the country is simple: I have a plan to steer our country through these headwinds. Once we have gripped inflation, I will get the tax burden down. It is a question of 'when', not 'if'."

In a statement, Mr Hunt pledged to cancel "unthinkable" planned cuts to the size of the Army in the face of the threat posed by Vladimir Putin's Russia and raise spending on defence to 3% of national income by 2028.

"We're facing a long-term war of attrition in Europe, so we have to get real about the implications for our defence budget," he said.

"The planned cuts to our armed forces are now unthinkable; we must put our money where our mouth is and prove that we understand the first duty of Government is keeping people safe."

Mr Tugendhat, the chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, who has already said he would reverse the rise in national insurance and cut fuel, said further measures were needed to boost economic growth.

In a speech on Tuesday, he will set out his 10-year plan for growth to address the UK's lagging productivity, with investment in skills and infrastructure as well tax breaks for research and development.

Ahead of his speech, Mr Tugendhat, a former soldier, said: "Tax cuts cannot be the only round in the magazine to fire growth in the economy."

Under the timetable set out by Sir Graham Brady, the first ballot of MPs will take place on Wednesday, with candidates failing to get 30 votes being eliminated, with a second expected on Thursday.

The process is then likely to continue into next week, with candidate with the lowest vote dropping out, until the list of candidates is whittled down to just two who will go forward into a ballot of party members.

The new prime minister will be announced on September 5 when MPs return to Westminster from their summer break.