Scottish Tory peer helped PPE firm gain £200m Covid contract as Theresa May warns of 'damage' over Westminster sleaze row

Former prime minister Theresa May has warned the Westminster sleaze scandal will inflict lasting “damage" on the UK Government as a Scottish Tory peer was named among a list of politicians who referred companies to a controversial UK ‘VIP lane’ for Covid-19 contracts.

Baroness Michelle Mone, a Scottish entrepreneur who was handed a life peerage by the then-Prime Minister David Cameron in 2015, was named on a leaked list published on Tuesday by political website Politico.

The list cites 47 firms that won contracts via the UK Government’s ‘fast-track’ system, which resulted in quick decisions around procurement of PPE in the early stages of the pandemic.

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The information was set to published by the UK Government before next week after the information commissioner ordered its release and criticised its decision to withhold the information.

Scottish Tory peer Baroness Michelle Mone referred a company to the UK Government's 'VIP lane' for Covid-19 procurement.Scottish Tory peer Baroness Michelle Mone referred a company to the UK Government's 'VIP lane' for Covid-19 procurement.
Scottish Tory peer Baroness Michelle Mone referred a company to the UK Government's 'VIP lane' for Covid-19 procurement.

The list’s publication comes on the same day Mrs May warned of the “damage” caused to all MPs and Parliament by the Westminster sleaze row.

Boris Johnson’s party has been dogged with accusations of cronyism and sleaze as it battles the fallout of the Owen Paterson scandal, which led to the MP’s resignation two weeks ago following a row over a report that concluded he broke lobbying rules.

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Mrs May criticised the government support for an overhaul of parliamentary standards in light of Mr Paterson’s case as “ill-judged and just plain wrong”.

The SNP said the leaked list was further proof the UK Government’s Covid procurement was “driven by rampant cronyism”.

According to the list, former health secretary Matt Hancock referred four firms to the VIP lane, with former high-profile Downing Street aide Dominic Cummings referring one, and MPs Julian Lewis, Steve Brine, Esther McVey and Andrew Percy all submitting referrals.

The disgraced Mr Hancock who stepped down after his affair with an aide was exposed by The Sun, referred four companies to the VIP lane, while former Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, now leading the government’s Levelling Up agenda, referred Meller Designs, which won contracts worth £50 million.

Meller Designs is run by Conservative Party donor David Meller.

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Baroness Mone, who made her money in the lingerie sector, referred PPE Medpro through the VIP channel, with the firm later winning contracts worth £200m.

One of the company's directors, Anthony Paige, was previously a secretary for MGM Media who manages Baroness Mone’s personal brand and sits as a director of Knox House Trust, part of the Knox Group run by her husband Douglas Barrowman.

A lawyer for Baroness Mone told The Guardian last year that neither of them had any role in the awarding of PPE Medpro’s contracts.

A spokesperson for Baroness Mone said: “Baroness Mone is neither an investor, director or shareholder in any way associated with PPE Medpro.

"She has never had any role or function in PPE Medpro, nor in the process by which contracts were awarded to PPE Medpro.

"Baroness Mone had no knowledge of any ‘high priority lane’, and did not play any part in or have any knowledge of PPE Medpro being placed in such a lane.”

Lord Andrew Feldman, described as David Cameron’s “oldest political friend” and a former chair of the Conservative Party, referred three companies to the fast track system who won contracts worth £65m.

He told Politico he had simply passed on offers of help.

Lord Agnew of Oulton, a minister in charge of procurement, referred two companies through the VIP lane.

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Dominic Cummings is also named in the list as having helped Global United Trading to secure contracts worth almost £800,000, though he claimed he was not involved and blamed an “admin error” on the side of the UK Government.

Reacting to the publication of the list, the SNP’s Cabinet Office spokesperson Brendan O’Hara hit out at what he labelled “rampant cronyism”.

He said: “The Tory Government's approach of handling multi-billion-pound Covid contracts has been driven by rampant cronyism.

"Throughout the pandemic we have witnessed staggering sums of taxpayers' money being gifted to Tory donors, friends and contacts without due process or scrutiny.

"Further revelations of Tory peers like Michelle Mone and Andrew Feldman, MPs and senior party figures helping firms they are linked to get their hands on hundreds of millions of pounds of public money raises serious questions that the Tory government cannot continue to ignore.

"Cronyism, sleaze and corruption is thriving under Boris Johnson's Government.

"The SNP has consistently made clear that there must be a full public inquiry into the process of Covid contracts. The UK Government must not be allowed to dodge scrutiny over its handling of taxpayers' money."

Speaking in the House of Commons during a debate on a motion aiming to approve a government U-turn over the Paterson row, Mrs May said scrapping the government’s move would be a “step in the right direction”.

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An attempt to quietly endorse the Commons standards watchdog’s report on Mr Paterson’s behaviour was foiled on Monday night as veteran Tory Sir Christopher Chope objected to the move.

Mrs May told the Commons: “I trust that no member of this House is thinking of doing anything other than supporting the motion that is being moved by the Leader of the House.

“Passing this motion will be a step in the right direction, but it will not undo the damage that has been done by the vote of November 3.

“Let’s be clear – this is not a party political issue. Damage has been done to all Members of Parliament and to Parliament as a whole.”

On the report into Mr Paterson’s actions, Mrs May said: “I believe the conclusion was clear and fair. Owen Paterson broke the rules on paid advocacy and the attempt by members of this House, aided and abetted by the Government, under cover of reform of the process effectively to clear his name was misplaced, ill-judged and just plain wrong.”

Mrs May also said: “It would be a mistake to think that because someone broke the rules, the rules were wrong.

“The rule on paid advocacy is a long-standing one.

“The problem came because there was an attempt to effectively let off a then-member of the House.

“That flew in the face of the rules on paid advocacy and in the face of the processes established by this House.”

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A UK Government spokesperson said: “At the height of the pandemic there was a desperate need for PPE to protect health and social care staff and the government rightly took swift and decisive action to secure it.

“Ministers were not involved in awarding contracts.”

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