Wednesday, February 21

Johnson defends Covid contracts



Boris Johnson today showed no remorse for handing out billions in crony coronavirus contracts and refused to even pledge he’ll stop doing it.

The Prime Minister insisted he was very proud of his record after a damning report found £10.5bn of contracts were given out without competition.

The National Audit Office revealed officials set up a high-priority lane to deal with PPE leads from people including MPs, ministers and peers. Requests in the high-priority lane were 10 times more likely to turn into government contracts. Hitting out at PMQs, Keir Starmer said suppliers with political connections were more likely to win lucrative deals.

Labour ’s leader added: We’re eight months into this crisis and the government is still making the same mistakes.
Can the Prime Minister give a cast iron assurance that from now on all government contracts will be subject to proper process with full transparency and accountability?

Yet the Tory leader – who was taking part in the first-ever virtual PMQs due to being in self-isolation – refused to give any such promise. He said: All government contracts are of course going to be published in a due way – they are already being published.

Publishing a contract is not the same thing as giving it out with proper competition. Even the PM’s basic claim is not true. The NAO said: Many of the contracts awarded over this period have not been published in a timely manner.

Sir Keir also raised the separate case of £21m handed to a go-between to set up contracts between the government and PPE suppliers.

Spanish businessman Gabriel Gonzalez Andersson was paid the money for procurement, logistics, due diligence, product sourcing and quality control when the UK Government bought £197m of PPE from a US firm. A few weeks ago he couldn’t find that amount of money for free school meals for kids over half term, Sir Keir told the PM.

Does the PM think £21m for a middle man was an acceptable use of taxpayers’ money?

The GMB union has blasted the contracts raised in the National Audit Office report, saying they show Tory cronyism is alive and well. But the PM insisted he had to remove the blockages and we shifted heaven and earth to get PPE despite a global shortage.

I’m very proud of what has been achieved, he added. Mr Johnson said: It’s entirely typical of Captain Hindsight that he now attacks our efforts to secure PPE. He said then we were not going fast enough but now says we were going too fast.

Sir Keir hit back by suggesting the PM was Captain “catch-up” – lagging weeks behind after he called for a circuit-breaker lockdown. In a wide-ranging PMQs, Boris Johnson failed to rule out cuts to the UK’s aid budget amid reports it could go from 0.7% of GDP to 0.5%.

He also insisted the package of Covid support for workers was outstanding and exceptional, despite 3million being excluded and MPs hearing a £500 Test and Trace support payment is barely used.