'I would do the same': Caller defends Dyson's 'acceptable' tax issue texts with PM

21 April 2021, 16:15 | Updated: 21 April 2021, 16:18

By Fiona Jones

Shelagh Fogarty challenged this caller who defended Sir James Dyson's 'tax issue' text exchange with Boris Johnson, telling her he would do the same "any day" if he was in that position.

Boris Johnson made "absolutely no apology at all" for text messages between him and Sir James Dyson about the tax status of the businessman's employees.

A text conversation between the Prime Minister and Sir James has been uncovered, where the PM promised he would personally "fix" the tax issue after being directly lobbied.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer suggested it was "one rule for those that have got the Prime Minister's phone number, another for everybody else", following claims of "sleaze and cronyism" in the Government regarding the Greensill scandal.

Shelagh Fogarty condemned the entrepreneur for his actions, saying it is proof he does not care about his country, to which caller James said was "a bit too far."

"I think he's probably somebody who's paid more personal tax to the UK coffers more than anybody else in the last decade or two. He's decided to streamline his activity, only some of it's in Singapore as I understand it.

"He jumped up and bought huge expertise and about £20 million loss to the ventilators push."

The caller James told Shelagh he was not a Brexiteer, continuing, "I don't think just because we have a coincidence of things whereby he campaigned for Brexit and then left, it should be concluded that he's not an incredibly good citizen.

"He gives masses to charities, donations as well, and I speak as a staunch Remainer."

Shelagh challenged: "Do you think the text exchange reveals an acceptable level of urgency and rule-breaking?"

"I do, to be honest, at that stage, if I was going to get a ventilator through a quick text or not get a ventilator through going through the procedures, which inevitably take a few days, I would take the text any day," James said.

Shelagh asked whether he was exercised by the Greensill scandal or a company Matt Hancock has shares in winning an NHS Wales contract, to which he replied: "I'm enraged by political lobbying and donations."

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer pressed Boris Johnson over lobbying concerns during the Covid-19 pandemic during Prime Minister's Questions, claiming "there is a pattern to this Government."

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."

Sir Keir Starmer countered: "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."

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