Call for Liaison Committee probe into Boris Johnson's conduct

Labour activists wearing face masks, depicting Boris Johnson, Rishi Sunak, Matt Hancock and former PM David Cameron

Labour activists wearing face masks, depicting prime minister Boris Johnson, chancellor Rishi Sunak, health secretary Matt Hancock and former PM David Cameron - Credit: PA

The opposition has demanded that the powerful Liaison Committee of MPs holds an urgent investigation into Boris Johnson’s conduct after fresh revelations about Tory sleaze.

The call came after it emerged the prime minister exchanged text messages with billionaire James Dyson over the tax status of his employees.

Johnson promised the entrepreneur he would “fix” the issue after personal lobbying from Dyson as he sought to build ventilators early in the coronavirus crisis.

In further developments, the Times reported that Johnson rejected his cabinet secretary’s advice to change his phone number because of concerns over the ease with which lobbyists and others from the business world were able to contact him.

Downing Street did not deny that Simon Case, the top civil servant, made the recommendation.

Labour’s Rachel Reeves has now issued the call for Sir Bernard Jenkin, the chairman of the Commons Liaison Committee comprised of select committee chairs, to launch an investigation.

The shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said the prime minister must give evidence before the cross-party group of MPs “about the ongoing cronyism row”.

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She called for all correspondence from Johnson’s phone about government business to be released and for No 10 to release details of communications between ministers, officials and lobbyists.

In a statement, Reeves added: “Revelations today seem to confirm a growing feeling that if one has access to a telephone number of someone like the prime minister or the chancellor of the Exchequer, then they are able to gain special treatment, potentially even significant financial ones.

“We need the prime minister to appear before the Liaison Committee immediately and for a thorough investigation into his conduct on this matter.”

The Dyson messages emerged as the government faces sustained allegations of “cronyism” after a series of reports of former prime minister David Cameron lobbying for his employer, Greensill Capital.

Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge, a former chairwoman of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, told BBC Newsnight: “What we’re getting to is an era where now it seems if you have the phone number of Rishi Sunak or (health secretary) Matt Hancock or indeed Boris Johnson you can do business by text message.

“And what you do is jump the queue, you rig the system and you grab the cash. And that just isn’t on.”

In a statement, Dyson 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.

“Neither Weybourne nor Dyson received any benefit from the project, indeed commercial projects were delayed, and Dyson voluntarily covered the £20 million of development costs. Not one penny was claimed from any Government, in any jurisdiction, in relation to Covid-19.”

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