Sir James Dyson has said it is “absurd to suggest” texts he sent Boris Johnson on the tax status of his employees had broken lobbying rules.
The BBC reported that Sir James had sent Johnson a series of messages in March last year to get assurances his employees would be exempt from tax rules if they moved to Britain to help build ventilators for the NHS.
The exchanges took place at the start of the pandemic when the government was appealing to firms to supply ventilators amid fears the NHS could run out.
The government said it was right to secure equipment for the NHS in “extraordinary times” while Sir James said it was “absurd to suggest that his firm was doing anything other than seeking to comply with Treasury rules”.
Sir James, whose firm is now based in Singapore, wrote to the Treasury asking for an assurance that his staff would not have to pay additional tax if they came to the UK to work on the project.
And in a statement sent to Sky News, Sir James said: “When the prime minister rang me to ask Dyson to urgently build ventilators, of course I said yes.
“We were in the midst of a national emergency and I am hugely proud of Dyson’s response – I would do the same again if asked.
“Our ventilator cost Dyson £20m, 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.
“Mercifully they were not required as medical understanding of the virus evolved.
“Neither Weybourne nor Dyson received any benefit from the project, indeed commercial projects were delayed, and Dyson voluntarily covered the £20m of development costs.
“Not one penny was claimed from any government, in any jurisdiction, in relation to COVID-19.”
A government spokesman said: “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.
“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.”
Speaking at the Treasury Select Committee two weeks later, chancellor Rishi Sunak said the tax status of those who arrived to provide specific help during the pandemic would not be affected.
Labour has described the disclosures as “jaw-dropping” and said Johnson must now agree to a full, independent inquiry into lobbying.
The Dyson revelation comes after a range of disclosures about former prime minister David Cameron’s activities on behalf of Greensill Capital.
Johnson has ordered a review by top lawyer Nigel Boardman into lobbying.