Calls for Sunak to withdraw Tory whip from Michelle Mone in Lords

Opposition parties say retention of whip in face of PPE claims reveals PM’s ‘empty promise’ of integrity

Rishi Sunak is facing calls from the main opposition parties to withdraw the Tory whip from Michelle Mone in the House of Lords after the Guardian revealed she appeared to have gained millions from the profits of a PPE company.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats have criticised the prime minister’s “staggering” refusal to do so, claiming his pledge to lead a government that acts with “integrity and professionalism” has become an “empty promise”.

A Conservative spokesperson in the Lords confirmed Mone would not have the whip suspended while the National Crime Agency was investigating the company, PPE MedPro, and a Lords standards committee held an inquiry into the allegations. “The decision has been made that she will retain the whip,” they said.

However, Labour claimed that Sunak’s refusal to act given the seriousness of the allegations was another failure of integrity.

The party chair, Anneliese Dodds, said: “For the many people who lost loved ones during the pandemic, the idea that the Conservatives and their friends” profited from this “will be sickening”.

“It is staggering that Baroness Mone still has the Conservative whip. Rishi Sunak, the man who wrote off billions in Covid fraud, has his fingerprints all over this,” she added.

“He lacks the backbone to withdraw the whip just as he was too weak to sack his home secretary or deputy prime minister for their behaviour. The British people will see this as yet another failure to stand up for integrity and accountability.”

Sal Brinton, the Lib Dems spokesperson for health in the Lords, said: “After the revelations about Baroness Mone’s financial benefit from the VIP lane during a national health crisis, it is an outrage that the Conservative whip has not yet been removed.

“This government’s pledge to act with ‘integrity and professionalism’ is quickly becoming an empty promise.”

The Green party MP Caroline Lucas said the claims “warrant a thoroughly comprehensive and forensic investigation and an immediate withdrawal of the whip”.

The Tory party “cannot allow allegations on this scale to be brushed under the carpet for a second longer – or else any remaining shred of ‘integrity, professionalism and accountability’ is lost for good”, she said.

A secret offshore trust which had Mone and her children as its beneficiaries received £29m originating from the profits of the company PPE Medpro, bank records seen by the Guardian indicate.

The firm was awarded large government contracts after the Tory peer, a lingerie entrepreneur, helped it to secure a place in a “VIP lane” the government used to prioritise PPE suppliers who had political connections.

The government spent more than £13bn on PPE during the pandemic and has been accused of failing to carry out adequate due diligence in awarding contracts, with billions wasted in fraud and unused equipment. Ministers claim they were under pressure to buy PPE where they could because of global shortages.

The high court ruled earlier this year that the government had acted unlawfully in operating the VIP lane, stating that its operation was “in breach of the obligation of equal treatment”.

Asked by the Guardian last year why Mone did not include PPE Medpro in her House of Lords register of financial interests, her lawyer replied: “Baroness Mone did not declare any interest as she did not benefit financially and was not connected to PPE Medpro in any capacity.”

Leaked documents, produced by HSBC and reported on by the Guardian last week, appear to contradict that statement. They state that Mone’s husband, the Isle of Man-based financier Douglas Barrowman, was paid at least £65m in profits from PPE Medpro, and then distributed the funds through a series of offshore accounts, trusts and companies.

The ultimate recipients of the funds, the documents indicate, include the Isle of Man trust that was set up to benefit Mone, who was Barrowman’s fiancee at the time, and her three adult children. In October 2020, the documents suggest, Barrowman transferred to the trust £28.8m originating from PPE Medpro profits.

Contacted about the new disclosures, HSBC said it was unable to comment, even to confirm if the couple had been clients. A lawyer for Mone said: “There are a number of reasons why our client cannot comment on these issues and she is under no duty to do so.”

A lawyer who represents both Barrowman and PPE Medpro said that a continuing investigation limited what his clients were able to say on these matters. He added: “For the time being we are also instructed to say that there is much inaccuracy in the portrayal of the alleged ‘facts’ and a number of them are completely wrong.”

Barrowman’s apparent move in October 2020 was just five months after Mone helped PPE Medpro secure contracts to supply masks and sterile gowns for use in the NHS. The company has declined to say how it would repay millions of pounds of public money for unused equipment if ordered to do so after a dispute with the government.

Contributor

Aletha Adu Political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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