PM and chancellor draw fire for holidaying as recession warning hits

Nadhim Zahawi insists he’s getting calls and briefings while working remotely
Nadhim Zahawi tells MPs about his "return to the office" drive for DfE staff

By Jim Dunton

05 Aug 2022

Prime minister Boris Johnson and chancellor Nadhim Zahawi have been criticised for being out of the country on holiday as the Bank of England warned the UK economy will fall into recession later this year and inflation will rise above 13%.

Zahawi instructed his staff to return to pre-pandemic working patterns “immediately” earlier this year, when he was secretary of state at the Department for Education. Yesterday he insisted he was getting calls and briefings on the Bank’s latest forecast while working remotely.

Labour Party deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “The Tories have crashed the economy, now they’re missing in action.”

The prime minister, who is due to leave office at the beginning of next month, is understood to be on a delayed honeymoon in Slovenia. Zahawi is also on a foreign break.

Zahawi became chancellor last month after Conservative Party leadership candidate Rishi Sunak quit government in protest at Johnson’s leadership. He was said by a Treasury source to have “put in hours of phone calls on Thursday”.

The source, quoted by the Daily Telegraph, said the calls had included a conversation with Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey.

The chancellor told the Spectator magazine that he was effectively working remotely.

“For me, like I’m sure lots of others, there is no such thing as a holiday and not working,” he said.

“I never had that in the private sector, not in government. Ask any entrepreneur and they can tell you that.

“Millions of us dream about getting away with our families but the privilege and responsibility of public service means that you never get to switch off, that’s why I have had calls and briefings every day and continue to do so.”

Parliament is currently in recess and August is a traditional time for MPs to take breaks. However criticism of the prime minister and chancellor – which has also come from Liberal Democrat front-bencher Layla Moran – had shades of last year’s attacks on Dominic Raab and Sir Philip Barton.

Then-foreign secretary Raab and Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office permanent under-secretary Barton were both on holiday at the time Afghanistan was falling back into Taliban control.

Departmental occupancy rates for July, published yesterday by the Cabinet Office, showed that HM Treasury had a 55% occupancy rate last week while the Department for Education had 61% occupancy at its Sanctuary Buildings headquarters.

The Scotland Office’s Dover House HQ had the lowest occupancy rate: 27%. The Ministry of Defence’s Main Building had the highest, at 72%.

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