Nadhim Zahawi: a self-made, solid minister in rapid ascent

Profile: The ambitious new chancellor first entered the cabinet only a year ago and has already been tipped for the top job

The new chancellor is continuing his rapid recent ascent which saw him only become a junior minister in 2018, and first enter the cabinet, as education secretary, less than a year ago.

The key to the 55-year-old Stratford-upon-Avon MP’s rise is his stint from 2020 to 2021 as undersecretary of state in the health department – or “minister for vaccines”, in the shorthand for that job.

Zahawi gained huge credit for the UK’s very rapid initial rollout of Covid vaccines, something regularly cited by Boris Johnson as one of the defining achievements of his time in office.

When the role ended, a reshuffle to cabinet was inevitable, and in the education job Zahawi has again been a solid minister and good media performer, albeit someone whose reputation was inevitably helped by succeeding the hapless Gavin Williamson.

Zahawi has in recent months been talked about regularly as one of the contenders to succeed Johnson, and he has a personal backstory to match his obvious ambition.

Born in Baghdad to Iraqi Kurd parents, Zahawi arrived in the UK aged nine, speaking no English, and has talked eloquently about the prejudice he faced. A co-founder of pollsters YouGov, Zahawi has also made considerable sums from the oil industry, and is one of the UK’s richest MPs.

His self-made status is seen by some as an asset in what seems a likely battle to take over from Johnson – but he would also face scrutiny of his business career and many outside financial interests.


Peter Walker Political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Nadhim Zahawi admits errors made over Owen Paterson affair
Education secretary denies debacle calls Boris Johnson’s judgment into question

Matthew Weaver

05, Nov, 2021 @12:22 PM

Article image
Former Tory minister calls for Nadhim Zahawi to step down
Caroline Nokes says party chair should let investigation take place as story has become a distraction

Jessica Elgot and Peter Walker

24, Jan, 2023 @2:11 PM

Article image
Nadhim Zahawi appointed minister in charge of Covid-19 vaccine rollout
UK business minister to take on additional role as NHS prepares for mass deployment

Mattha Busby

28, Nov, 2020 @2:25 PM

Article image
Nadhim Zahawi ‘not comfortable’ with breaking manifesto promises
Minister’s comments come as PM prepares to announce rise in NI contributions to fund social care

Jamie Grierson

07, Sep, 2021 @7:24 AM

Article image
Nadhim Zahawi apologises for economic turmoil after mini-budget
Cabinet minister says ‘of course I’m sorry’ during clash with Piers Morgan on BBC One’s Question Time

Jamie Grierson

07, Oct, 2022 @7:40 AM

Article image
Nadhim Zahawi claims UK winter blackouts are ‘extremely unlikely’
Cabinet minister says it is ‘only right we plan for every scenario’ after National Grid warning

Aubrey Allegretti

09, Oct, 2022 @2:27 PM

Article image
Nadhim Zahawi to replace Gavin Williamson as education secretary
Former vaccines minister promoted by Boris Johnson after winning plaudits for efficient and fuss-free jab rollout

Richard Adams, Sally Weale and Peter Walker

15, Sep, 2021 @6:25 PM

Article image
Nadhim Zahawi sacking: the questions still facing Rishi Sunak
Decision came out of the blue, say sources, as Tory MPs ask what prime minister knew and when

Jessica Elgot and Pippa Crerar

30, Jan, 2023 @8:01 PM

Article image
Labour calls for inquiry over Nadhim Zahawi tax affairs
Opposition says Tory chair must explain why he paid millions of pounds in backdated tax to HMRC

Rowena Mason and Pippa Crerar

19, Jan, 2023 @12:48 PM

Article image
Not enough black headteachers in England, says Nadhim Zahawi
Education secretary says schools must be inclusive and representative and should reflect their communities

Richard Adams Education editor

09, Oct, 2021 @4:02 PM