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How Nadhim Zahawi has ‘been secretly plotting his own leadership bid for months’

Gambling man Nadhim Zahawi was today betting on the Tory party and the public forgiving him for standing by Boris Johnson and becoming Chancellor – and then delivering the fatal blow to his premiership all in 24 hours.

The Tory MP, a multi-millionaire married father-of-three, went from being Boris Johnson’s saviour to his assassin in the space of a day amid claims he has been secretly preparing his leadership campaign for months with the help of the PM’s own election guru.

One politics watcher described his actions over the past 24 hours as: ‘Caligula-esque sh*thousery’. 

It is another calculated bet for the Tory MP whose risk taking in business has seen him compared to Del Boy from Only Fools and Horses and a contestant trying to impress Lord Sugar on The Apprentice. 

But Peter Kellner, his former senior colleague at polling giant YouGov, the company Mr Zahawi founded and made millions from, said today: ‘My old friend, who I worked with for 10 years, has made a serious mistake – you do not chain yourself to a sinking ship’.

Political commentator Joe Murphy wrote in the Evening Standard: ‘In the end it took a politician as ruthless and ambitious as Boris himself to deliver the coup de grace’ and that the PM, who himself took down Theresa May, will understand ‘the brutal political necessity for Zahawi to commit regicide’. 

The 55-year-old Tory MP’s rise is extraordinary given he arrived in Britain aged nine as a Kurdish refugee from Iraq after fleeing Saddam Hussein with his family and not speaking any English. He went on to make a fortune founding polling firm YouGov and building a £100million property portfolio.  

Mr Zahawi was dramatically promoted from Education Secretary to Chancellor late on Tuesday night after Rishi Sunak quit. And he publicly defended the Prime Minister after being put in charge of the Treasury to firm up the Tory leader’s position.

But just a few hours later Mr Zahawi was joining other former loyalists at No 10 in trying to persuade Mr Johnson to quit and this morning pulled the plug, telling the PM publicly to ‘do the right thing and go now’. Minutes later it emerged that the Prime Minister had finally agreed to resign because he had no Chancellor willing to back him.

Last night it was claimed that he has been secretly preparing a Tory leadership campaign with close allies of election guru Sir Lynton Crosby, the Australian strategist credited with winning Boris multiple elections.

He is married to wife Lana (together in London on June 21) and they have three children

Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi (pictured today) following his appointment after Rishi Sunak resigned from the post. Today he knifed Boris Johnson in an extraordinary U-turn. He is married to wife Lana (together right in London on June 21) and they have three children

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (pictured yesterday) finally agreed to quit being bombarded with more resignations and Mr Zahawi pulled his own support

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (pictured yesterday) finally agreed to quit being bombarded with more resignations and Mr Zahawi pulled his own support

A younger Nadhim Zahawi (right), who has a £100m property portfolio, is pictured in his flat in Brompton, West London, with designer Broosk Saib (left) in a flat he bought from Dutch supermodel Karen Mulder

A younger Nadhim Zahawi (right), who has a £100m property portfolio, is pictured in his flat in Brompton, West London, with designer Broosk Saib (left) in a flat he bought from Dutch supermodel Karen Mulder

The PM has admitted defeat half-an-hour after a shattering intervention from Nadhim Zahawi (pictured), who was only appointed on Tuesday night in the wake of Rishi Sunak's departure

The PM has admitted defeat half-an-hour after a shattering intervention from Nadhim Zahawi (pictured), who was only appointed on Tuesday night in the wake of Rishi Sunak’s departure

A portrait Nadhim Zahawi, when joint CEO of YouGov, with Chairman Peter Kellner (R). The polling business would make him millions. Mr Kellner today said that his friend 'made a serious mistake - you do not chain yourself to a sinking ship'

A portrait Nadhim Zahawi, when joint CEO of YouGov, with Chairman Peter Kellner (R). The polling business would make him millions. Mr Kellner today said that his friend ‘made a serious mistake – you do not chain yourself to a sinking ship’

Mr Zahawi was summoned to Downing Street last night and asked to take over at the Treasury after Boris Johnson refused to quit. The PM will resign as Tory leader

Mr Zahawi was summoned to Downing Street last night and asked to take over at the Treasury after Boris Johnson refused to quit. The PM will resign as Tory leader

Mr Zahawi receives an AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccination in Lewisham, South East London, on March 19. He was praised and promoted to Education Secretary for his work in rolling out the jab

Mr Zahawi receives an AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccination in Lewisham, South East London, on March 19. He was praised and promoted to Education Secretary for his work in rolling out the jab

Father-of-three Mr Zahawi is pictured in October 1996, when he was a businessman friends say would have done well on the Apprentice

Father-of-three Mr Zahawi, pictured in October 1996 when he was a businessman, is a risk taker and friends say would have done well on the Apprentice with Lord Sugar

The Chancellor has reportedly spent months working on plans that include proposals to cut corporation tax and VAT. Boris Johnson’s ex-strategist Mark Fullbrook is running the campaign, according to The Times. The plan is apparently ready to put into action and Mr Zahawi was prepared to resign this week if he had not been made Chancellor.

Friends have said that Mr Zahawi’s ‘real blood and passion was politics’ – but before being elected as Tory MP for Stratford-Upon-Avon MP 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’.

Mr Zahawi, a married father-of-three, said yesterday he was backing Boris Johnson because he is ‘dedicated to the country that gave me everything’ – and denied he is bolstering his own personal ambition to be Prime Minister. But others have claimed otherwise.

It has never been plain sailing for the senior Tory. 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.

‘You know in your heart what the right thing to do is – go now’: Nadhim Zahawi’s letter to Boris Johnson in FULL 

My number one priority has and always will be this great country. When asked to become Chancellor, I did it out of loyalty. Not to a man, but loyalty to this country and all it has given me.

The challenges Britain faces, be it inflation or Putin’s war in Ukraine, will not pause for anything, and it is vital that the major offices of state continue to function through a national crisis.

If people have thought poorly of me for that decision, it is criticism I am willing to shoulder.

Yesterday, I made clear to the Prime Minister alongside my colleagues in No10 that there was only one direction where this was going, and that he should leave with dignity.

Out of respect, and in the hopes that he would listen to an old friend of 30 years, I kept this counsel private.

I am heartbroken that he hasn’t listened and that he is now undermining the incredible achievements of this Government at this late hour.

No one will forget getting Brexit done, keeping a dangerous antisemite out of No 10, our handling of covid and our support for Ukraine in its hour of need.But the country deserves a Government that is not only stable, but which acts with integrity.

‘Prime Minister, you know in your heart what the right thing to do is, and go now’.

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. 

Who is the favourite to replace Boris Johnson as the next Tory leader?

Penny Mordaunt – 4/1

Rishi Sunak – 4/1

Ben Wallace – 8/1

Liz Truss – 8/1

Nadhim Zahawi – 9/1

Jeremy Hunt – 10/1

Tom Tugendhat – 11/1

George Eustice – 20/1 

Michael Gove – 25/1

Dominic Raab – 28/1

Mark Harper – 40/1

Priti Patel – 40/1

Jacob Rees-Mogg – 80/1

Nadine Dorries – 200/1 

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 Nadhim win the bet, he also used to push YouGov’s credibility and three years later he is said to have made £5.7million when it floated.

One senior government figure said Zahawi as a calculated risk-taker – a claim made today as he decided to back Boris Johnson with his leadership in peril.

‘He isn’t reckless. He makes sure the odds are in his favor 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, adding it was no surprise that he was a success as Vaccines Minister in the pandemic because ‘in a sense, the vaccine job is like an Alan Sugar challenge writ very large’.

He is now one of the favourites to replace Boris Johnson. Friend Tobias Ellwood, a sharp critic of Mr Johnson, has long said he would support him if he stands for leader.

He told Politico: ‘Too many people have got responsibility in Cabinet that arguably shouldn’t be there, given the changing environment from December 2019 to where we are today.

‘His promotion [to Education Secretary] recognises that we have high-calibre people within the ranks of parliament with skill sets that can and should be tapped into’.

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

One of the wealthiest members of Parliament, he went on to be named ‘entrepreneur of the year’ by Ernst & Young and set up successful polling company YouGov.

He is said to have a property empire worth around £100million.

The father-of-three was elected MP in 2010 – the first Kurdish Iraqi to be elected to Parliament.

Zahawi went on to act as an aide to Lord Archer before heading into politics himself.

Despite initially backing Dominic Raab for Conservative party leader in 2019, he has been loyal to Mr Johnson ever since.

He was previously 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.

During the MPs expenses scandal, he was forced to apologise for claiming taxpayers’ money to heat his stables on his Warwickshire estate.

Last year Mr Zahawi faced fresh scrutiny over his income from second jobs after using a legal loophole to shield his total earnings.

The new Chancellor earned more than £1.3 million from a role with Bermuda-listed Gulf Keystone from 2015 until he became a minister.

But his total income from second jobs since becoming an MP in 2010 is unknown because he funnelled it through a consultancy firm, Zahawi and Zahawi, which he set up with wife Lana before being elected MP for Stratford in 2010.

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

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 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

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

There is no suggestion any rules or laws have been broken. But Sir Alistair Graham, a former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, told the Mirror: ‘This could be interpreted as a deliberate attempt to get around the rules so that he doesn’t have to admit the scale of his earnings in a consultant capacity.

‘The important thing to stress is that MPs have their personal responsibility to ensure that they comply not only with the letter but the spirit of the code of conduct.

‘Constituents have a right to know how much time and money he is taking separate to his political work.’

Mr Zahawi, the Iraq-born founder of YouGov, 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.

Most recently the Education Secretary, he had early success as the vaccines minister, helping to lead the Government’s vaccine programme following his appointment in November 2020.

Seen as a ‘safe pair of hands’, he came to the Education Secretary role following the sacking of Gavin Williamson, who had become deeply unpopular with the public over the exams fiasco during the Covid-19 pandemic.

His tenure in the role has not been without difficulty and in recent weeks he had been attempting to see off potential strike action by teachers, which he has labelled ‘unforgivable’ months after children returned to school following the disruption of the pandemic.

Mr Zahawi became a junior education minister under Theresa May, but his loyalty to Boris Johnson has never seriously wavered.

On Tuesday night, in taking the Chancellor role, he had decided to try to save Mr Johnson from a comedy of errors.

And now it seems certain he will run to be the next leader of the Tories.

Mr Zahawi, who was only appointed on Tuesday, said he had made clear privately to Mr Johnson that he should go but ‘I am heartbroken that he hasn’t listened and that he is now undermining the incredible achievements of this Government at this late hour’.

The Chancellor’s extraordinary statement said the country ‘deserves a Government that is not only stable, but which acts with integrity’.

Mr Zahawi has not resigned but Michelle Donelan, who was also only appointed on Tuesday night, quit as Education Secretary.

She told Mr Johnson ‘I can see no way that you can continue in post’ but without a formal mechanism to remove him the Cabinet must ‘force your hand’.

Brandon Lewis quit his Cabinet post as Northern Ireland Secretary, telling the Prime Minister the Government requires ‘honesty, integrity and mutual respect’ and it is ‘now past the point of no return’.

His departure was soon followed by a string of other ministers as the number of MPs quitting government and party posts since Tuesday evening topped 50.

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