All ministers with Covid contract links must publish messages, Labour says

Government urged to disprove notion that there are separate rules ‘for ministers and their close friends’

Labour is urging all government ministers with links to companies that won Covid-19 contracts to publish emails and text messages with their business contacts, in order to prove that nothing improper has taken place.

In a letter to her counterpart, Michael Gove, the shadow Cabinet Office minister, Rachel Reeves, said that there was “a growing impression that there is one set of rules for ministers and their close friends, and another for the rest of the British public”.

The demand comes after criticism of the government for setting up a so-called “VIP lane” that allowed companies with ministerial links or recommendations to jump the queue for pandemic-related contracts.

Last week, Boris Johnson pledged to publish communications with James Dyson, the billionaire Brexit-supporting inventor and entrepreneur who asked the prime minister to “fix” a tax issue for his employees working on ventilators.

Research by non-governmental organisation Transparency International says that 20 per cent of the UK’s personal protective equipment (PPE) procurement raised red flags over corruption. Campaigners have also brought a lawsuit on the issue.

In light of this, Labour says all ministers with links to companies that won contracts should publish their messages, in a bid to live up to Mr Gove’s claim that “transparency drives everything this government does”.

Ms Reeves said: “Under the increasing spread of Tory sleaze, knowing how exposed some of our frontline staff were during the height of the pandemic without proper PPE, but also that Tory friends and donors were being awarded £2bn worth of contracts, creates increasingly serious questions for government.

It’s increasingly clear that it is one set of rules for ministers and their close friends, and another for everyone else

Rachel Reeves, shadow Cabinet Office minister

“The government have long rejected Labour’s call for basic transparency by publishing the VIP fast lane, but this cannot go on given new revelations of corruption risk, and of companies without proper certification being allowed to jump the queue.

“As we are still missing an independent adviser on ministerial standards, and a register of ministers’ interests, the government must require ministers to publish openly and with full transparency, communications between them and those businesses who have won contracts since the pandemic begun and emergency procurement was introduced.

“Otherwise it’s increasingly clear that it is one set of rules for ministers and their close friends, and another for everyone else.”

The government says the VIP lane was necessary to speed up procurement of essential items needed during the pandemic.

But critics say many of the companies that won contracts did so without basic checks, and sometimes had no experience delivering the services they were contracted for.

Additionally, a growing number of companies with links to the government or Conservative Party have been reported.

The prime minister’s spokesperson has said that procurement “had to be done at speed, because in the early stages of the pandemic we didn't have enough PPE inside the country”.

She added that “the government believes that at the beginning of the pandemic we had to act very quickly and we were very successful at that”.

The increasing scrutiny comes amid questions over whether lobbyists for big businesses are given too much access to ministers, and how Boris Johnson paid for the lavish refurbishment of his private Downing Street flat.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in