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Nadhim Zahawi: the Iraqi tasked with rebuilding the UK economy

Reuters/Phil Noble
New British chancellor Nadhim Zahawi arrives for TV interviews on his first day in the job
  • Zahawi replaces Rishi Sunak as chancellor of the exchequer
  • Born in Iraq, he moved to Britain in the 1970s
  • Will look at all UK options, including possible tax cuts

New British chancellor of the exchequer Nadhim Zahawi says his rise from “an immigrant boy” to hold the job as steward of the country’s treasury showed what a great country Britain was.

Zahawi was appointed chancellor late yesterday after a series of ministerial resignations in protest at Boris Johnson’s premiership, including that of former chancellor Rishi Sunak.

“I pinch myself every morning when I think about the opportunity this country delivers for an immigrant boy born in Baghdad. It is a truly great country,” Zahawi said on LBC radio.

A long-standing member of the ruling Conservative Party, Zahawi, 55, was born in Iraq and moved to Britain when his Kurdish family fled the rule of Saddam Hussein in the mid-1970s.

“It’s been an incredible journey,” Zahawi said. “I came to this country at the age of 11, couldn’t speak a word of English.

“I am now the chancellor for this great nation and entrusted with the stewardship of the economy.”

He takes over the running of an economy that is faced with surging inflation and energy prices, a cost of living crisis and pressure to cut taxes in order to help struggling families.

Nadhim Zahawi, the new chancellor of the exchequer, replaces Rishi Sunak (left), who quit on Tuesday

But he also faced questions in his first media interviews in the job about whether he would even have a chance to steer the economy out of its looming slowdown, given prime minister Johnson’s weakened grip on power.

Britain’s economy is showing clear signs of a slowdown as inflation heads for double digits and it is forecast to be weaker than other big industrialised economies next year.

As well as the challenge of soaring energy and food costs, Britain is also adjusting to life after Brexit.

Zahawi, widely credited in the Conservative Party for successfully overseeing Britain’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout, said 2023 was shaping up to be “really hard” and he would focus on the cost-of-living squeeze facing households.

He hinted at a rethink of Sunak’s plan to increase taxes on businesses next year.

“Nothing is off the table,” he told BBC radio. “I will come back on your programme and happily talk about where I think can do more on taxes.

“We are determined to do that, as was my predecessor. He was determined to do that on personal taxation and of course on other taxation as well.”

But Zahawi said his priority was to fight inflation – something that could be aggravated by tax cuts now – and he also stressed the need to fix the public finances after Sunak spent more than £400 billion ($479 billion) to cushion the economic blow dealt by the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have just come out of the equivalent of a world war. We have to rebuild the economy and return to growth,” Zahawi said, adding that the government would have to be careful about increases in public sector pay which could drive inflation higher.

“The important thing is to get inflation under control, be fiscally responsible,” he told Sky News.

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