During Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on Wednesday 21 April, Labour’s Keir Starmer and the SNP’s Ian Blackford probed the PM over the emerging James Dyson scandal. But it took a backbench MP’s tweet to actually ask the killer question.
More Tory corruption?
As Press Association (PA) reported, Boris Johnson made “absolutely no apology at all” during PMQs. This was for text message exchanges about Dyson’s concerns about the tax status of his employees. It comes amid claims of corruption – described as ‘sleaze and cronyism’ – in the Tory government.
The BBC reported it has seen a series of text messages between Johnson and Dyson after the latter was unable to get the assurances he was seeking from the Treasury.
The exchanges took place in March last year at the start of the pandemic. It was when the government was appealing to firms to supply ventilators because it was worried the NHS could run out. So, Dyson wrote to the Treasury. He asked for an assurance his staff would not pay extra tax if they came to the UK to work on the project.
But when he failed to receive a reply, the BBC said he took up the matter directly with the PM. It did a mock-up image of the messages:
During PMQs, Starmer said it was:
one rule for those that have got the Prime Minister’s phone number, another for everybody else.
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.
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford called on Johnson to reveal “how many more Covid contracts he personally fixed”. And he also said the PM should publish all personal exchanges on these contracts. Johnson maintained there was no wrong-doing:
There’s absolutely nothing to conceal about this and I am happy to share all the details with the House, as indeed I have shared them with my officials immediately.
The real Dyson question
But Labour backbencher Dawn Butler wasn’t satisfied with the outcome of PMQs on the issue. She tweeted:
Hang on a minute!#Dyson didn't actually supply any ventilators 🤔
— Dawn Butler MP✊🏾💙 (@DawnButlerBrent) April 21, 2021
Dyson people welcomed the Government’s challenge and, working round the clock, developed an entirely new ventilator in 30 days. Mercifully, they are not now required in the UK… I have some hope that our ventilator may yet help the response in other countries… Dyson has spent around £20m on this project to date, I will be funding this and we will not be accepting any public money.
But Sunak told the Commons Treasury Committee last year that the tax status of people who came to the UK to provide specific help during the pandemic would not change. This policy was in place for several months. It essentially stopped people having to pay tax to HMRC when they were paying it in their country of origin.
Breaks for mates
So, as Butler said: did Dyson’s workers get tax breaks for not supplying ventilators? And when did those tax breaks stop? As with much that Johnson does, the answer is still completely unclear. Of course, it’s not Dyson’s employees’ faults if they did get tax breaks. Ultimately though, the public shouldn’t lose tax revenue because of the government’s actions in cancelling the Dyson contract.
But the story really shows that in the world of Tory business – if you’re a mate of the PM, then anything goes.
Additional reporting via Press Association.
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