Baroness Mone hits back at PM – as Starmer urges govt to ‘come clean’ over role in PPE scandal

Politics

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has demanded the government “comes clean” over the role ministers played in dealing with Baroness Mone during the pandemic.

The Tory-appointed peer and her husband, Doug Barrowman, have been embroiled in a scandal after a company they had links with was awarded multi-million pound contracts by the government for personal protective equipment (PPE) amid the COVID crisis.

The pair continually denied any involvement with PPE MedPro, but leaked documents showed she had recommended the firm to Cabinet Office ministers – including the now Housing Secretary Michael Gove – which saw the company added to the so-called “VIP lane” and given two contracts totalling more than £200m.

Politics live: Govt takes PPE scandal ‘incredibly seriously’, says PM

On Sunday, Baroness Mone admitted her involvement with the business, and that around £60m in profits from the contracts was being held in trusts by Mr Barrowman, which she could benefit from in the future.

She also claimed she contacted Mr Gove at the start of the pandemic following a “call to arms for all lords, baronesses, MPs, senior civil servants, to help, because they needed massive quantities of PPE”, telling the BBC: “I just said, ‘we can help, and we want to help’. And he was like, ‘oh my goodness, this is amazing’.”

But she insisted the government had made her and her husband “scapegoats” for wider failings of PPE procurement throughout the pandemic.

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Sir Keir called the scenario “a shocking disgrace from top to bottom”, adding: “As every day goes past, there are more questions that need to be answered.”

But he focused in on the alleged roles of Mr Gove and other ministers, saying they “may have started this unhappy story in the first place”.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer talking to staff during a visit to the theatre recovery ward in the Bexley Wing of St James' University Hospital in Leeds, West Yorkshire. Picture date: Monday December 18, 2023.
Image:
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called for a statement from the government during a visit to a hospital in Leeds

The Labour leader told reporters: “The government needs to come clean. It needs to make a statement [to the Commons] about that.”

He added: “There are now serious questions that I think Michael Gove [and] the government now need to answer.

“Who made the original contact? What was the nature of that discussion that led to the situation that we now learn developed?

“I think they should make a statement in the House of Commons today about this so that the public can hear first-hand what actually happened here.”

However, despite the government confirming three separate ministerial statements in the Commons this afternoon, none will focus on the scandal.

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Rishi Sunak says the government takes the case ‘extremely seriously’

Lingerie entrepreneur Baroness Mone was appointed as a peer by David Cameron in 2015, but she is currently taking a leave of absence.

The Lords’ standards commissioner is carrying out an investigation into whether she breached the code of conduct by not declaring her interests in PPE MedPro.

Asked whether the peer should be expelled from the Lords, Sir Keir said: “I don’t think she should be in the Lords. I think the government should be held to account for this.”

His comments echoed those made by energy minister and Tory peer Lord Callanan to Sky News on Monday morning, where he said Baroness Mone should “see sense” and not return to the upper chamber.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak refused to comment on the situation due to live legal proceedings, as PPE MedPro is currently being sued by the Department of Health and Social Care over claims millions of the gowns they supplied failed to meet the standard required – something Baroness Mone and Mr Barrowman deny.

The company is also under investigation by the National Crime Agency.

Mr Sunak insisted, however, that he and the government “take all these things incredibly seriously”.

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