Tony Blair reacts to James Dyson and Boris Johnson’s texts
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In a series of texts, the British entrepreneur asked Mr Johnson for assurances his staff would not have to pay additional tax if they came to the UK to work on building emergency Covid ventilators. Sir James’s firm is now based in Singapore and therefore exempt from many UK taxes.
In March 2020, just weeks into the pandemic, there was a shortage of ventilators with the Government asking private firms to help with manufacturing to increase supply of the life-saving machines.
Sir James sent messages to the Prime Minister seeking assurances his employees would not be taxed for travelling to Britain to offer their assistance.
The Labour Party has described the revelations as “jaw-dropping” and demanded an independent inquiry be set up into Government lobbying.
However, the party’s former leader, Tony Blair, said the Government was doing everything it could to fight coronavirus.
“We’re in the middle of a pandemic, and after all, we were actually asking James Dyson to step forward and start making ventilators,” he told Radio 4’s Today programme.
“I find it hard to get worked up about this.”
He added: “There’s got to be a certain degree of understanding. If you’re in the middle of a huge crisis like this, people are going to be using every means they can to make sure they respond to the immediate crisis.”
In text exchanges seen by the BBC, Sir James told Mr Johnon “sadly” the Treasury had not provided assurance that his staff would not have to pay additional tax.
The Prime Minister replied: “I will fix it tomo! We need you. It looks fantastic.”
The Prime Minister then texted him again saying: “(Chancellor) Rishi (Sunak) says it is fixed!! We need you here.”
Shadow business minister Lucy Powell said the revelations were “jaw-dropping”.
She said: “It stinks, really, that a billionaire businessman can text the Prime Minister and get an immediate response and apparently an immediate change in policy.
“It seems like the country only works for people who are rich enough or influential enough and, frankly, donors to the Tory Party, who have the personal mobile number of the Prime Minister and Chancellor.”
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A Labour Party spokesman added: “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.”
Demanding an inquiry, they continued: “Boris Johnson must now agree to a full, transparent and independent inquiry into lobbying – and end the scandal of Conservative politicians abusing taxpayer money.”
A Government spokesman dismissed Labour’s accusations of “sleaze” and said it was right to take action in “extraordinary times” to ensure the NHS had the equipment 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 he was “hugely proud” of his firm’s response in “the midst of a national emergency”, and that he would “do the same again if asked”.
“Our ventilator cost Dyson £20 million, freely given to the national cause, and it is absurd to suggest that the urgent correspondence was anything other than seeking compliance with rules, as 450 Dyson people – in UK and Singapore – worked around the clock, seven days a week to build potentially life-saving equipment at a time of dire need,” he said.
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