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Business Secretary tells LBC Boris Johnson behaved 'appropriately' in Dyson texts

22 April 2021, 08:42

By Maddie Goodfellow

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has told LBC that Boris Johnson behaved "appropriately" in his texts with Sir James Dyson, saying he "had to act quickly in a crisis".

Asked by Nick Ferrari if the PM behaved "appropriately" in his texts with James Dyson, Mr Kwarteng responded "absolutely".

He explained: "We were in a situation where there was a crisis, there was a pandemic, thousands of people were dying.

"And the Prime Minister had to act very quickly to make sure that we had ventilators here in the UK.

"At the time, one of the big problems that they had in Italy was that they didn't have ventilators.

"So the Prime Minister took the view that he would 'move heaven and earth' to try and make sure that ventilators were made here in the UK, and he managed to do that. And he would do the same again.

He continued: "I understand that one of Labour's shadow ministers herself said that Keir Starmer would have done the same thing.

"So I think it is very odd of them to say on one hand they would have done the same thing if they were in office but at the same time it is somehow an issue of sleaze. I don't understand."

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng spoke to Nick Ferrari on LBC
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng spoke to Nick Ferrari on LBC. Picture: LBC

It comes as Labour has called for an urgent investigation into Boris Johnson’s conduct following revelations about texts with Sir James Dyson and David Cameron's lobbying.

Senior Labour MP Rachel Reeves said there is a feeling that if "one has access to a telephone number of someone like the Prime Minister or the Chancellor of the Exchequer, then they are able to gain special treatment".

She has called for a powerful Commons committee to carry out the inquiry after it emerged Mr Johnson told Sir James he would "fix" an issue over the the tax status of his employees.

Boris Johnson has said he has "nothing to conceal" while Chancellor Rishi Sunak previously told Labour that Cameron's lobbying efforts for Greensill Capital were referred to officials at the time and "appropriate consultations" were held.

Ms Reeves, the shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, said the PM must give evidence before a cross-party group of MPs.

She also called for correspondence from Mr Johnson's phone about Government business to be released and for Downing Street to publish details about communications between ministers, officials and lobbyists.

Pushed by Nick on whether there is "a drip drip of sleaze" within the Tory party, Mr Kwateng said: "I don't think it is."

"Clearly we need to have very high standards in public life," he said. "And I think there were issues around Greensill, but I hasten to add that we have around six committees looking at the Greensill issue.

"They are going to find out what happened exactly to make sure that if anything wrong happened we can deal with that and to prevent this from happening again.

"We have high public standards, but there is always room for improvement."

Read more: 'Sleeze, sleeze, sleeze' - Keir Starmer accuses Government of cronyism

The BBC reported on text messages sent between Mr Johnson and Sir James in March last year, as the entrepreneur sought to build ventilators as the coronavirus crisis took off.

Sir James, whose business is now based in Singapore, was unable to get assurances from the Treasury that his staff would not need to pay additional tax if they went to the UK to work on the project.

After receiving no reply, Sir James took the issue to Mr Johnson, who replied: "I will fix it tomo! We need you. It looks fantastic."

Mr Johnson was criticised by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who said the messages suggested it was "one rule for those that have got the Prime Minister's phone number, another for everybody else".

But Mr Johnson told the Commons during Prime Minister's Questions that he was "happy to share all the details" of the exchanges as there was "nothing to conceal".

Meanwhile, David Cameron has been cleared of wrongdoing over his lobbying but his advocating for Greensill – which he worked for – to get access to Government coronavirus support finance has brought greater scrutiny on the ties between Government and businesses.