Boris Johnson personally promised Sir James Dyson that he would “fix” an issue over the tax status of his employees after he was lobbied by the entrepreneur, it has been reported
Multiple text messages between the two men have been revealed, in which Sir James Dyson contacts the PM after he was unable to get the assurances that he was looking for from the Treasury.
The text message exchanges took place in March of last year at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic when the Government was appealing to businesses to supply ventilators amid fears that the NHS could potentially run out.
The Government has said that it was right to secure the equipment for the NHS in “extraordinary times” while Sir James Dyson said that it was “absurd to suggest that his firm was doing anything other than seeking to comply with Treasury rules”.
This comes after the prime minister has faced repeated quizzing from MPs about the lobbying row that has engulfed David Cameron, his Prime Ministerial predecessor, and has also dragged in some former and current ministers and government officials.
Labour, however, has since described these disclosures as “jaw-dropping” and said boris Johnson must now agree to a full, independent inquiry into government lobbying.
Mr Dyson, whose firm is now based in Singapore, wrote to the Her Majesty’s Treasury asking for an assurance that his employees would not be required to pay additional tax if they came to the UK in order to work on the ventilator project.
However, when Sir James failed to receive a reply from the Treasury, he took up the matter directly with Boris Johnson.
He said in a text, seen by the BBC, that the company was ready but that “sadly” it seemed no-one from the government wanted them to proceed.
Mr Johnson replied: “I will fix it tomo! We need you. It looks fantastic.”
Mr Johnson then texted him again saying that: “(Chancellor) Rishi (Sunak) says it is fixed!! We need you here.”
When Sir James then sought further assurance from the Prime Minister, Mr Johnson replied: “James, I am First Lord of the Treasury and you can take it that we are backing you to do what you need.”
Two weeks later, Rishi Sunak told the House of Commons Treasury Committee that the tax status of those people who came to the UK to provide specific help during the pandemic would not be affected.
A Government spokesperson had said that it was right to take action in “extraordinary times” to ensure that the NHS had the neccesary equipment that it needed.
“At the height of the pandemic, there were genuine fears that we would quickly run out of ventilators, leaving the NHS unable to treat patients and putting many lives at risk,” the spokesman said.
“As the public would expect, we did everything we could in extraordinary times to protect our citizens and get access to the right medical equipment.”
Sir James said that he was “hugely proud” of his company’s response in “the midst of a national emergency”, saying that he would “do the same again if asked”.
He said: “When the Prime Minister rang me to ask Dyson to urgently build ventilators, of course I said yes.
“Mercifully, they were not required as medical understanding of the virus evolved. Neither Weybourne (Dyson’s holding company) nor Dyson received any benefit from the project; indeed commercial projects were delayed, and Dyson voluntarily covered the £20 million of development costs.”
This comes after the role of a Conservative Party donor in a £100m government deal to buy PPE has been revealed following an reported admin error. A document listed Samir Jassal, an ex-councillor and Tory donor who has both campaigned with the PM and donated money to the Conservative Party.
Sir James Dyson also said that his company had not claimed “one penny” from governments in any jurisdiction in relation to COVID-19.
A spokesperson for the Labour Party said: “These are jaw-dropping revelations. Boris Johnson is now front and centre of the biggest lobbying scandal in a generation, and Tory sleaze has reached the heart of Downing Street.
“The Prime Minister appears to have used the power of his office to personally hand public money to a billionaire friend in the form of tax breaks. If true, it is clearer than ever there is one rule for the Conservatives and their friends, another for everyone else.”