Rishi Sunak's sacking of Nadhim Zahawi doesn't mean his career's finished. Just ask Home Secretary Suella Braverman – Angus Robertson

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It took less than a week for the UK Government’s independent ethics advisor to examine the facts surrounding former Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi’s tax affairs and to make judgement. Zahawi was found to have seriously breached the ministerial code on several occasions.

Only a few days beforehand, Rishi Sunak claimed that Zahawi had addressed the situation in full. Clearly, the Prime Minister was unwilling to ask the most basic questions to find out if his party chairman had acted properly and in good faith. As the saying goes, none are so blind as those unwilling to see, and Sunak’s adopted ignorance has turned out to be a severe – and revealing – error.

When he took up the premiership, Sunak claimed his would be a transparent and accountable government. Had the Prime Minister acted as he should have and sacked Zahawi at the first available moment, he may have been able to keep a shred of credibility.

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Instead, he took the same tack as his predecessors and protected his own. As with Boris Johnson, the ethics in this situation have, quite literally, had to be externally imposed upon them by civil servants and public opinion. It is an indictment of what is now, if it wasn’t already, an established Tory practice of roaming beyond the rules and trying to get away with whatever you can.

If the recent past is anything to go by, it is conceivable that Mr Zahawi may well return to the Tory front bench in future. Remember, when Suella Braverman sent an official document from her personal email to a fellow MP, she was found to have committed a serious breach of ministerial rules and was forced to resign from Liz Truss’s government. Yet, when Sunak took over the reins, she swanned back into the Home Office brief as if her rule-breaking was just figment of the nation’s collective imagination.

So what is the principle or the rule? Will, in spite of breaching the ministerial code, Zahawi be given the opportunity to return to government? Or is it the case that Ms Braverman has been given a free pass? If so, why? The same old Tory mantra offers the answer: protect your own and get away with what you can.

Of course, this is not the end of ongoing Cabinet-level accusations of impropriety. Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab faces an investigation of up to 24 counts of bullying of staff. Such behaviour obviously would show a total disregard for basic rules about the treatment of colleagues. In the meantime, the Deputy Prime Minister remains in post, enjoying Sunak’s backing. Let’s not forget, too, that Johnson’s scandal about loan arrangements with the then soon-to-be BBC Chairman trundles on, too. This is truly a cabinet of horrors.

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Sunak pretended he was going to be a new broom and be different. Better. He would reinstate trust and integrity to government (something which, of course, ought not to be in question in the first place). But let’s see him for what he is: the next in the line of Tory Prime Ministers who believe themselves to be above the rules and above accountability. As with the last two Prime Ministers, we must show him how wrong he is.

Angus Robertson is the SNP MSP for Edinburgh Central and Constitution, External Affairs and Culture Secretary

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