'I don't know' if Michelle Mone should be kicked out of the Lords, govt minister says after baroness takes aim at Sunak

19 December 2023, 08:16

Calls have grown to kick Michelle Mone out of the Lords
Calls have grown to kick Michelle Mone out of the Lords. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

The government's housing minister "does not know" if Michelle Mone should be kicked out of the House of Lords - as the row engulfs Rishi Sunak and the Tory party.

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The baroness, a Conservative peer, has admitted she lied about her involvement in a 2020 PPE deal which saw her benefit from a contract between the government and PPE Medpro, led by her husband, during the pandemic.

Mone had recommended the firm to ministers.

She has taken a leave of absence from the Lords since the concerns about her ties to PPE Medpro and the contract emerged, but could return at any time.

Asked if she should be kicked out, housing minister Lee Rowley told LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast: "I don't know, is the short answer. There's multiple investigations under way.

Read more: 'They all knew': Michelle Mone hits back after Rishi Sunak says he is taking the PPE scandal 'extremely seriously'

"I think the British presumption of innocent before guilty, I think we should apply.

"I'm not close to the detail but obviously we need to let those investigations conclude.

"There's some very serious issues here, and if Michelle Mone has been found to have done something wrong, or the company which has been found to have given PPE to us in the wrong way, there's a lot of processes under way to try and rectify that."

That is despite Lord Callanan, an energy minister, saying on Monday: "I would hope that she would not be coming back to the House of Lords."

Read more: Gove faces calls to answer MP questions after Michelle Mone names him over PPE scandal

Mone hit out at Rishi Sunak on Monday, after he said: "The government takes these things incredibly seriously, which is why we're pursuing legal action against the company concerned in these matters.

"That’s how seriously I take it and the government takes it. But it is also subject to an ongoing criminal investigation. And because of that, there’s not much further that I can add."

Mone said: "What is Rishi Sunak talking about. I was honest with the Cabinet Office, the Government and the NHS in my dealings with them.

"They all knew about my involvement from the very beginning."

Mone has admitted she did stand to benefit from a deal between the government and Medpro, which was given more than £200m to supply PPE at the height of the Covid outbreak.

But millions of gowns were never used and the Department of Health hopes to get back some of the money, having kicked off breach of contract proceedings. The couple says the gowns were supplied in accordance with the contract.

Michelle Mone has admitted lying to the press
Michelle Mone has admitted lying to the press. Picture: Alamy

The money went to financial trusts belonging to her husband Doug Barrowman, and she admitted she was a beneficiary of it. About £60m of profit went to the trusts.

And after admitting she had made an "error" in publicly denying a connection, she said lying to the press was "not a crime".

"I did make an error in saying to the press that I wasn't involved," she said.

Read more: Michelle Mone admits she stands to benefit from £60 million Covid equipment profit

"Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I wasn't trying to pull the wool over anyone's eyes, and I regret and I'm sorry for not saying straight out, yes, I am involved."

Mone has previously said in a video - believed to have been funded by PPE Medpro - that her and her husband have "done nothing wrong".

Lord Callanan said Mone should not be allowed back to the House of Lords
Lord Callanan said Mone should not be allowed back to the House of Lords. Picture: Alamy

The National Crime Agency (NCA) is investigating PPE Medpro, while Mr Barrowman has alleged a government official asked if he "would pay more money for the NCA investigation to be called off".

"We get to November 2022, and I attend this negotiation, as opposed to a mediation," he told the BBC.

"It's very, very clear that, you know, they're interested in settling but they want a sum of money that, quite honestly, we are not of a mind to pay.

"So, I then have a separate meeting. And this individual asked me would I pay more for the other matter to go away.

"I was speechless, I didn't quite understand what he meant by that, because the only other matter on the table was the NCA investigation which had commenced in, as far as we were aware, April 2022.

"I was absolutely gobsmacked. I think it raises very serious questions as to what that official meant, what he was saying."

Deputy prime minister Oliver Dowden said he would be "very surprised" if an official had said that, and insisted that the government's PPE policy early in the pandemic did not include "favours or special treatment".