Johnson says ‘no need for apology’ over Dyson texts
Boris Johnson: offered to fix tax issue
Boris Johnson said he will “make absolutely no apology” for the text exchanges with businessman James Dyson promising to “fix” the tax status that would have helped the firm build ventilators in the UK.
Mr Johnson told the Commons he will publish his messages to Sir James, whose firm is best known for vacuum cleaners and is now based in Singapore.
Sir James had told the Prime Minister that he had written to the Treasury in March last year to ask for no change in tax status for his staff if it was to make ventilators for Covid patients in the UK, but he had not received any assurances.
Mr Johnson pledged: “I will fix it tomo! We need you. It looks fantastic.”
The prime minister then texted him again, saying: “[Chancellor] Rishi [Sunak] says it is fixed!! We need you here.”
When the businessman sought further reassurance for the tax status of the firm and “senior individuals”, the Prime Minister replied: “I am First Lord of the Treasury and you can take it that we are backing you to do what you need.”
Labour said these were “jaw-dropping revelations”. A spokesman added: Boris Johnson is now front and centre of the biggest lobbying scandal in a generation, and Tory sleaze has reached the heart of Downing Street.
“The Prime Minister appears to have used the power of his office to personally hand public money to a billionaire friend in the form of tax breaks. If true, it is clearer than ever there is one rule for the Conservatives and their friends, another for everyone else.
“The stench of sleaze has been building up around this Conservative Government for months. Boris Johnson must now agree to a full, transparent and independent inquiry into lobbying – and end the scandal of Conservative politicians abusing taxpayer money.”
In the Commons today, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accused the government of “sleaze, sleaze, sleaze”.
But Mr Johnson replied: “I make absolutely no apology at all for shifting heaven and earth and doing everything I possibly could, as I think any Prime Minister would in those circumstances, to secure ventilators for the people of this country.”
Sir James said it was “absurd to suggest that the urgent correspondence was anything other than seeking compliance with rules” and that his company did not receive “any benefit from the project”.
Two weeks later, Chancellor Rishi Sunak told a group of MPs that the tax status of people who came to the UK to provide specific help during the pandemic would not be affected.
There could, however, be further questions around the Prime Minister’s adherence to the ministerial code, which dictate that “a private secretary or official should be present for all discussions relating to government business”.
Where none is present “any significant content should be passed back to the department as soon as possible after the event”.
A spokesman for Sir Keir told reporters: “There is evidence that the code may very well have been breached and we will be following that up in the coming days.”
But Downing Street insisted Mr Johnson informed his officials of the exchanges in a ‘timely manner’ in line with the provisions of the code.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “The Prime Minister abides by the ministerial code.
“He alerted officials after his contact with Dyson and then that passed on to officials to work up the advice.”
Later on ITV, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “There is I think a quite powerful stench of sleaze starting to surround this Tory government, and I think they really need to open it up to some fresh air.
“My colleague Ian Blackford has rightly called for a full inquiry into all of this today and it’s a call that I fully back.”
Ms Sturgeon has faced accusations of breaking the ministerial code over the Salmond affair, which she has denied.