Mone’s Covid lobbying ‘extraordinarily aggressive’, claims Hancock

Ex-minister claims Tory peer intimated unnamed firm she was helping was being treated unfairly

The Conservative peer Michelle Mone made “extraordinarily aggressive” lobbying efforts on behalf of a company bidding to supply Covid tests during the pandemic, Matt Hancock has claimed in a serialisation of his diaries.

The former health secretary claimed that Lady Mone made “wild accusations” about the procurement process, intimating that the company she was helping, which is not named, was suffering unfairly.

“I read the message again, stunned,” reads a part of Hancock’s diary, being serialised in the Daily Mail. “Was she threatening me? It certainly looked that way.”

The Guardian revealed last month that bank records indicate Mone and her children secretly received £29m originating from the profits of a PPE business that was awarded large government contracts.

PPE Medpro secured contracts worth more than £200m in 2020, weeks after Mone recommended the company to the Tory cabinet minister Michael Gove and his then deputy Theodore Agnew.

Labour has said it will use its opposition day debate on Tuesday to oblige the government to release “all papers, advice, and correspondence involving ministers and special advisers, including submissions and electronic communications” relating to the contracts to the public accounts committee.

Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, said: “Britain is sick of being ripped off by the Tories. We want our money back.

“Tory MPs can either back Labour’s binding vote to force ministers to come clean on the murky award of £203m in taxpayers’ money to a company linked to a Tory peer or they are choosing to be complicit in a cover-up.

“The ‘VIP lane’ for PPE is a scandal of epic proportions that has allowed the shameful waste of taxpayers’ money and inexcusable profiteering by Tory cronies.”

Hancock’s claims, which he said relate to a separate bid for business connected to Mone, say the Tory peer contacted him in June last year over lateral flow tests.

“Baroness Michelle Mone has sent me an extraordinarily aggressive email complaining that a company she’s helping isn’t getting the multimillion-pound contracts it deserves,” he wrote.

“She claims the firm, which makes lateral flow test kits, ‘has had a dreadful time’ trying to cut through red tape and demanded my ‘urgent help’ before it all comes out in the media. ‘I am going to blow this all wide open,’ she threatened.”

According to the Mail, Hancock said Mone complained to him that a US test manufacturer, Innova, had in effect secured a “monopoly position” by winning several contracts.

He went on: “By the end of the message, she seemed to have worked herself into a complete frenzy and was throwing around wild accusations. ‘I smell a rat here. It is more than the usual red tape, incompetence and bureaucracy. That’s expected! I believe there is corruption here at the highest levels.’

“She concluded by urging me to intervene ‘to prevent the next bombshell being dropped on the government’.” This, Hancock added, “felt like a threat”.

In the diary, Hancock wrote that he then found out that the company for which she was lobbying had not passed the necessary tests to win contracts, and that he did not reply to what he called “aggressive peers representing commercial clients”.

Mone’s representatives were contacted for comment. The Mail said they had declined to comment.

At the weekend, new details emerged about the pressure Mone appears to have put ministers under after approaching them on behalf of PPE Medpro.

As previously revealed by the Guardian, Mone wrote to Gove, then the Cabinet Office minister, and Lord Agnew, who was his deputy in charge of procurement, using their personal email addresses, telling them that PPE could be sourced from “my team in Hong Kong”.

According to the Sunday Times, when she felt the government was taking too long to respond, the peer is said to have pressed Agnew via email and phone to “accelerate” the process.

“She was rude, abrasive and bullying,” said a source familiar with the so-called VIP procurement channel. “Her hectoring tone was very irritating.”

At one point, an exasperated Gove is said to have described her as “a right pain in the arse”.

Contacted last month about Mone’s apparent receipt of funds originating from PPE Medpro, a lawyer for the peer 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 PPE Medpro and Mone’s husband, Douglas Barrowman, who also appears to have received profits from the government contracts, said a continuing investigation limited what his clients were able to say on these matters.

They 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.”

Contributor

Peter Walker Political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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