Priti Patel has been accused of a “flagrant breach” of the ministerial code by lobbying a fellow minister in an attempt to secure a healthcare firm access to a personal protective equipment (PPE) deal said to be worth £20 million.
Labour has urged cabinet secretary Simon Case to investigate the home secretary over efforts to sway the award of a contract after being approached by a Tory activist.
Patel attempted to apply pressure to Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove in May last year during efforts to secure the contract for Pharmaceuticals Direct Limited (PDL).
Her efforts failed after Matt Hancock said the masks were “not suitable for the NHS”, according to disclosure in a legal case.
But PDL was awarded a £102.7 million contract weeks later in July to provide a different type of mask, during which Samir Jassal was also the contact.
Jassal has stood as a Conservative candidate at two general elections and has met Boris Johnson and David Cameron.
A spokesman for Patel said: “The home secretary rightly followed up representations made to her about the vital supply of PPE.
“During a time of national crisis, failure to do so would have been a dereliction of duty.”
However, Labour urged the cabinet secretary to investigate Patel in a letter signed by deputy leader Angela Rayner and shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds.
They said there is “no evidence that the home secretary had any interest” in the PPE deal until contacted by Jassal, suggesting she did it “as a favour to her friend”.
“This would represent a glaring and flagrant breach of the ministerial code,” they said.
They pointed to the principle that “ministers must ensure that no conflict arises, or could reasonably be perceived to arise, between their public duties and their private interests, financial or otherwise”.
Disclosure from the government in response to a pre-action letter from the Good Law Project over the £102.7 million contract for FFP3 masks revealed a letter Patel wrote to Gove in May last year.
The Daily Mail, which first reported on the documents, said the possible deal was worth £20 million.
She expressed disappointment that the government no longer required supplies of KN95 masks from PDL, saying “they have committed stock and secured supply, exposing them to considerable financial risk and pressures”.
“The late stage in which the government has decided not to use them has caused these problems,” Patel wrote on May 3 last year.
“I would be most grateful fi (sic) you could review this matter urgently, ensure direct contact is made with this company over the stock they have secured, ascertain what contractual obligations the government should meet and work with the company to distribute and supply these masks.”
Ten days later, Hancock wrote to Patel saying that “KN95 face masks are Chinese standards” and that UK officials have concluded that they are “not suitable for use in the NHS”.
Last year the ministerial standards adviser found Patel’s conduct “amounted to behaviour that can be described as bullying” but the prime minister overruled the finding as ultimate arbiter of the code.
Jolyon Maugham, director of the Good Law Project campaign, which is investigating how coronavirus contracts were awarded, said: “Why did Jassal, a man connected to past and present Tory PMs, ministers and peers, reach out to Priti Patel for help?
“What was his role in winning the £103 million contract? What relationship did his connections with the party have to the £103 million contract won by Pharmaceuticals Direct?
“These are the questions at the heart of our judicial review of this most troubling of PPE contracts.”
Jassal and PDL have been contacted for comment.