Michelle Mone accused of trying to ‘bully’ ministers over PPE contracts

1 month ago 17

Michelle Mone has been accused of attempting to “bully and hector” ministers into awarding public PPE contracts worth more than £200m to a company that she appeared to profit from.

The Guardian revealed last month that the Conservative peer and her children secretly received £29m originating from the profits of a PPE business that was awarded large government contracts after she recommended it to ministers.

Now Whitehall sources have told the Sunday Times that Mone lobbied Michael Gove and Lord Agnew at the start of the pandemic in 2020 to secure business for PPE Medpro.

The newspaper reported that Mone wrote to Gove, then Cabinet Office minister, and Agnew, who was his deputy in charge of procurement, on their personal email addresses.

She wrote: “We have managed to source PPE masks through my team in Hong Kong. In order to commit to this 100,000 [masks] per day could you please get back to me ASAP as freight will also need to be secured.”

When she felt the government was taking too long to respond, the peer is said to have pressed Agnew via email and telephone to “accelerate” the process. “She was rude, abrasive and bullying,” said a source familiar with the VIP channel. “Her hectoring tone was very irritating.”

At one point, an exasperated Gove is said to have described her as “a right pain in the arse”.

A government source stressed that ministers did not make decisions on contract awards.

A secret offshore trust which had Mone, 51, and her children as its beneficiaries received £29m originating from the profits of PPE Medpro, which supplied face masks and medical gowns, bank records seen by the Guardian indicated.

It comes after Rishi Sunak faced calls from the main opposition parties to withdraw the Tory whip from the lingerie entrepreneur in the House of Lords.

A Conservative spokesperson in the Lords said Mone would not have the whip suspended while the National Crime Agency was investigating the company and a Lords standards committee held an inquiry into the allegations.

The firm was awarded substantial government contracts after the Tory peer helped it to secure a place in a “VIP lane” the government used to prioritise PPE suppliers who had political connections.

Asked by the Guardian last year why Mone did not include PPE Medpro in her House of Lords register of financial interests, her lawyer replied: “Baroness Mone did not declare any interest as she did not benefit financially and was not connected to PPE Medpro in any capacity.”

Leaked documents reported on by the Guardian last week state that Mone’s husband, the Isle of Man-based financier Douglas Barrowman, was paid at least £65m in profits from PPE Medpro, and then distributed the funds through a series of offshore accounts, trusts and companies.

The ultimate recipients of the funds, the documents indicate, include the Isle of Man trust that was set up to benefit Mone, who was Barrowman’s fiancee at the time, and her three adult children.

In October 2020, the documents suggest, Barrowman transferred to the trust £28.8m originating from PPE Medpro profits.

Last month, a lawyer for Mone said: “There are a number of reasons why our client cannot comment on these issues and she is under no duty to do so.”

A lawyer who represents both Barrowman and PPE Medpro said at the time that a continuing investigation limited what his clients were able to say on these matters. He added: “For the time being we are also instructed to say that there is much inaccuracy in the portrayal of the alleged ‘facts’ and a number of them are completely wrong.”

Mone has previously stated: “I completely refute these allegations. I was asked to help at a time of national emergency. I declared all necessary interests and have done nothing wrong. I will cooperate fully with any investigation.”

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