Iain Dale's fiery row with MP Lucy Powell over PM's tax texts with Dyson

22 April 2021, 20:16

By Fiona Jones

Iain Dale's fiery debate with Shadow Business Minister Lucy Powell over the controversial text conversation between Boris Johnson and Sir James Dyson, where he requested for his employees' taxes to be "fixed."

The BBC reported the entrepreneur, who moved his business to Singapore, wanted to ensure his employees would not pay additional tax if they went to Britain to make ventilators at the start of the pandemic.

Boris Johnson told Sir James he would "fix" the issue after the businessman failed to get assurances from the Treasury.

It has since been reported that Sir James Dyson has moved his residency to the UK amid controversy over his texts with the PM, adding further intrigue to the unfurling event.

Labour MP Lucy Powell told Iain Dale she objected to "Tory billionaire donors" having a "direct line" to the Prime Minister, pointing to a civil service route that stops any suggestion of "mates rates" or "special access."

Iain countered, "This was not mates rates, this was a top British industrialist trying to help out a British effort to get more ventilators and the Prime Minister was trying to help him do that."

Ms Powell said this "was not the nature of the text messages", adding that "many other businesses" who were producing ventilators and offering their services "weren't Tory billionaire donors [so] didn't have the Prime Minister's number."

"I speak to businesses everyday who were part of the efforts to produce PPE for free, hand sanitisers for free, they don't have the mobile number of the Prime Minister," she said, "the issue here is access, that very informal, direct access that's not available to other people."

She condemned Sir James Dyson's lobbying for a "tax break" - to which Iain strongly objected: "It wasn't a tax break, it was so if [employees] came to this country to help produce ventilators, they wouldn't be paying extra tax."

Ms Powell questioned: "Why is it that James Dyson who is supposedly a British patriotic industrialist who has gained a great deal from British science and innovation over the years, recently offshored his research and development capacity to Singapore, precisely to pay less tax in this country?

"These text messages were a direct plea to the Prime Minister for his employees to not now be subject to the taxes that everybody else working in Britain in ventilators [are subject to.]"

Read more: 'Holy Trinity' of ventilator callers leave James O'Brien 'appalled at government cronyism'

Iain countered that if Sir James Dyson had Sir Keir Starmer's mobile number, Keir Starmer "would do exactly the same" and, continuing his point, said he had sent a text message to the Health Secretary highlighting issues raised by LBC callers, which was then addressed and fixed.

He asked whether he "should not have done that", to which Ms Powell said this was fine as long as the Health Secretary went through "the proper channels" which she did not believe the PM did.

"If Labour had been in power, and James Dyson had approached you or Keir Starmer by text message, you would've basically said no we can't help?" Iain asked, "I have Boris Johnson's phone number in my phone here...it's not a number only billionaire Tory donors have...I've got his number as well."

Ms Powell said, "Good for you, you're more connected than the vast majority of people out there who'd love to have the mobile phone number of the Prime Minister because they're desperate for support."