Newly-appointed chancellor of the exchequer Nadhim Zahawi has prompted questions about the division between political and ministerial business by publishing a letter urging Boris Johnson to quit on HM Treasury-headed paper.
Institute for Government associate director Tim Durrant said Zahawi’s use of departmental notepaper for an evidently political statement was remarkable – and also came less than 48 hours into his new role.
“Is this a resignation?” Durrant asked. “If not, why not? And why is it on Treasury, not parliamentary notepaper? This is a political, not departmental, issue.”
Zahawi was promoted from his previous role as education secretary on Tuesday, following the resignation of Rishi Sunak. His letter – dated 7 July – came hours ahead of Johnson’s confirmation that he would resign as Conservative Party leader but stay on as “caretaker” prime minister.
Zahawi’s letter is not addressed to a named individual. In parts, it reads like a statement to party colleagues; in other sections it appears to be aimed directly at Johnson.
In the letter, Zahawi states that he took on the role of chancellor out of loyalty to the country, rather than loyalty “to a man”, and that he had joined party colleagues in urging Johnson to leave Downing Street “with dignity” on Wednesday.
“Out of respect and in the hopes that he would listen to an old friend of 30 years, I kept this counsel private,” Zahawi wrote in the letter, which he published via Twitter at around 9am.
“I am heartbroken that he hasn’t listened and that he is now undermining the incredible achievements of this government.
“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.”
Zahawi’s successor as education secretary, Michelle Donelan, published her resignation letter earlier the same day. She had been education secretary for one full day.
CSW offered HM Treasury the opportunity to respond to the questions aroud Zahawi’s decision to use official departmental paper to call for Johnson’s resignation. It had not done so at the time of publication.