'Sleeze, sleeze, sleeze' - Keir Starmer accuses Government of cronyism

21 April 2021, 12:28 | Updated: 21 April 2021, 13:20

The Labour leader raised the issue with the Prime Minister
The Labour leader raised the issue with the Prime Minister. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer pressed Boris Johnson over lobbying concerns during the Covid-19 pandemic during Prime Minister's Questions.

The exchange came after the news Boris Johnson personally promised Sir James Dyson he would "fix" an issue over the tax status of his employees after he was directly lobbied by the entrepreneur.

He told the Commons: "What does the Prime Minister think is the right thing to do if he receives a text message from a billionaire Conservative supporter asking him to fix tax rules?"

Mr Johnson responded: "If he's referring to the request from James Dyson, 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.

"And to save lives and to roll out a ventilator procurement which the Labour-controlled Public Accounts Committee themselves said was a benchmark for procurement."

Boris Johnson's government accused of cronyism

Sir Keir Starmer went on to claim there is a "pattern to this Government", telling MPs: "The Prime Minister is fixing tax breaks for his friends, the Chancellor is pushing the Treasury to help Lex Greensill, the Health Secretary is meeting Greensill for drinks, and David Cameron is texting anybody who will reply.

"Every day there are new allegations about this Conservative Government: dodgy PPE deals; tax breaks for their mates; the Health Secretary owns shares in a company delivering NHS services.

"Sleaze, sleaze, sleaze, and it's all on his watch.

"With this scandal now firmly centred on him, how on earth does he expect people to believe that he is the person to clean this mess up?"

Boris Johnson replied: "I'll tell you why this Government is doing the right thing at the right time because the difference between us and the Labour Party is, I'm afraid, staringly obvious and we get on with taking the tough decisions to protect the people of this country and to take our country forward - uniting and levelling up."

Mr Johnson defended the Government's procurement during the pandemic and criminal justice reforms, adding: "Captain Hindsight snipes continually from the sidelines; this Government gets on with delivering on the people's priorities."

Sir Keir Starmer grills PM over texts with Sir James Dyson on tax

Mr Johnson responded: "I recall (Sir Keir) at the time saying that we should do everything that we could to get more ventilators, and indeed he congratulated the rollout of the ventilators, he said well done to everybody involved for the ventilator challenge.

"I just remind the House what we were facing in March last year, which was that we had a new virus which was capable of killing people in ways that we didn't understand, the only way to help them was to intubate them and put them on ventilation, we had 9,000 ventilators in this country, we secured 22,000 as a result of that ventilator challenge.

"I think it was entirely the right thing to do to work with all potential makers of ventilators at that time and by the way, so does the former leader of the Labour party, a man to whom I think he should listen, Tony Blair."

The Government said it was right to secure equipment for the NHS in "extraordinary times" while Sir James said it was "absurd to suggest that his firm was doing anything other than seeking to comply with Treasury rules".

Labour, however, described the disclosures as "jaw-dropping" and said Mr Johnson must now agree to a full, independent inquiry into lobbying.