Sir James Dyson has hit back at claims he acted inappropriately in texts with Boris Johnson and insisted he did not try to ‘extract favours from the Prime Minister’.
Speaking for the first time since the messages emerged last week, Sir James, 73, accused the BBC of ‘grotesque mischaracterisation’ over links between him and the Conservative Party.
He also said it was ‘entirely the right thing’ for Mr Johnson to contact him directly about proposed changes to the tax status of his employees making ventilators during the pandemic.
Sir James said: ‘The BBC’s characterisation of me as a prominent Conservative donor, or supporter, leveraging a position of power to extract favours from the Prime Minister, is completely untrue.
‘I have met Boris Johnson only three times… I have not attended any Conservative social events.’
Sir James Dyson, 73, accused the BBC of ‘grotesque mischaracterisation’ over links between him and the Conservative Party
He also said it was ‘entirely the right thing’ for Mr Johnson to contact him directly about proposed changes to the tax status of his employees making ventilators during the pandemic
Last week, Boris Johnson mounted a furious defence as he came under fire over the leaked private texts in which he promised Sir James he would ‘fix’ a tax rule so the tycoon’s staff could help make ventilators for the NHS.
Sir James wrote an official letter to the Treasury asking for the tax status of his staff to remain the same if they moved from Singapore to the UK to produce vital ventilators during the pandemic.
But in a private text seen by the BBC, Mr Johnson told Sir James that he ‘will fix it’ himself.
He then added ‘Rishi says it is fixed!! We need you here’.
Just two weeks later, Rishi Sunak told MPs that those coming into the UK to offer help during the pandemic would not see a change in their tax status.
It was the latest in a string of cronyism and lobbying questions facing the Conservative Party, after accusations that David Cameron used his influence and contacts to lobby ministers and officials behalf of his financier boss Lex Greensill.
This included texting Mr Sunak in an unsuccessful effort to secure coronavirus loans.
Hitting back at the BBC’s report, Sir James wrote in the Daily Telegraph: ‘There were myriad questions, from the technical to medical and compliance.
‘It was in this context that we wrote formally to the Chancellor on March 15 for clarification on how UK tax rules would apply during this period of unprecedented upheaval. Far from concealing the text exchanges, we shared them explicitly with officials at the Treasury and No10 via email on March 28.’
A BBC spokesman said: ‘The BBC has led the way on reporting a significant story which is clearly in the public interest. Sir James Dyson has informed us he is not a prominent Conservative supporter.’
Text exchange between Boris Johnson and Sir James Dyson over the tax status of his employees
Dyson: ‘We are ready. But nobody seems to want us to proceed. Sadly, James’
Johnson: ‘I will fix it tomo! We need you. It looks fantastic’
Johnson: ‘Rishi says it is fixed!! We need you here’
Dyson: ‘Thanks! I will give the ventilator our all. James’
Dyson: ‘Dear Boris, I’m afraid that we need a response to our letter below from Rishi please? We really need Rishi to answer the letter we sent (attached) – now. Or to make the position clear. Rishi has fixed the Country Day Count issue but not Work Days. The former is now covered under an ‘Exceptional Circumstances’ umbrella, Work Days are not. So, he has freed up your ability to be in the UK but not to work there – even in support of this National emergency.’
Johnson: ‘James I am first lord of the treasury and you can take it that we are backing you to do what you need.’
Just two weeks later, Chancellor Rishi Sunak told MPs that those coming into the UK to offer help during the pandemic would not see a change in their tax status.
Dyson played a key role during the pandemic, working with scientists and a Cambridge-based Technology Partnership to produce 10,000 ventilators for hospitals across the country.
In messages between the PM and Sir James, the former writes: ‘We are ready. But nobody seems to want us to proceed. Sadly, James.’
Mr Johnson replied saying he will ‘fix it tomorrow’ adding: ‘We need you. It looks fantastic.’
Sir James replied saying: ‘Thanks! I will give the ventilator our all.’
He then adds: ‘Dear Boris, I’m afraid that we need a response to our letter below from Rishi please?
‘We really need Rishi to answer the letter we sent (attached) – now. Or to make the position clear.
‘Rishi has fixed the Country Day Count issue but not Work Days.
‘The former is now covered under an ”Exceptional Circumstances” umbrella, Work Days are not.
‘So, he has freed up your ability to be in the UK but not to work there – even in support of this National emergency.’
Mr Johnson reassured him, writing: ‘James I am first lord of the treasury and you can take it that we are backing you to do what you need.’
Under the ministerial code – a list of rules laying out the conduct expected by ministers – ‘a private secretary or official should be present for all discussions relating to government business’.
Should a conversation happen without an official, ‘any significant content should be passed back to the department as soon as possible after the event’.
It also states that ministers should ‘act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner’ and ‘must act and take decisions impartially, fairly and on merit, using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias’.
‘The sword of Dom-ocles hangs over Downing Street’: No10 insiders ‘fear Dominic Cummings will publish WhatsApp messages at the heart of the Government’s who-said-what Covid lockdown row
Former chief adviser Cummings is locked in an explosive war of words with Boris Johnson after Downing Street accused him of a string of leaks – including claims about the PM’s £58,000 flat makeover.
Cummings reportedly left Downing Street with a ‘treasure trove’ of damaging information about the government and advisers now fear he will release tell-all WhatsApp messages if he is criticised too heavily.
The messages are said to contain information on the government’s lockdown strategy and allies of Cummings have claimed he also has audio recordings to hand.
A Whitehall official told the Sun: ‘Everyone is worried about going too hard on Dom in case he drags them in too.
‘Some very senior people are scrolling back through their phones wondering if they are in trouble.’
Downing Street insiders fear Dominc Cummings could release WhatsApp messages said to contain information on the government’s lockdown strategy
Boris Johnson faces the threat of suspension from the Commons if he is found to have failed to register a £60,000 Tory contribution to refurbishing his Downing Street flat.
The PM has already been put on notice he risks a ‘serious sanction’ after a report two years ago condemned his ‘repeated’ breaches of Parliamentary rules.
Conservative chiefs are believed to have secretly approved a £58,000 payment to the Cabinet Office in July last year to cover the works – which was on top of the £30,000 annual sum for upkeep that the taxpayer foots.
However, the government has insisted that the premier has now funded the overhaul himself. Downing Street has refused to deny reports that Mr Johnson secured a loan from a Tory donor – believed to be financier Lord Brownlow – to pay for the decor.
But experts say that should have been declared in the MPs’ register of interests within a month.
Mr Johnson has previously been berated by the Commons standards watchdog for repeatedly failing to declare financial interests.
In a report in Spring 2019 – shortly before he became PM – the cross-party committee said: ‘Should we conclude in future that Mr Johnson has committed any further breaches of the rules on registration, we will regard this as a matter which may call for more serious sanction.’
Beyond apologies, potential punishments could include suspension.
There is also speculation that if a donor footed the cost, Mr Johnson could face a significant tax bill because HMRC would consider it a benefit in kind.
Former chief adviser Cummings is locked in an explosive war of words with Boris Johnson after Downing Street accused him of a string of leaks – including claims about the PM’s £58,000 flat makeover
Former Cabinet Secretary Lord O’Donnell said transparency over the murky arrangements was ‘very late’, warning that PMs need to ‘set an example’ and ‘obey the rules’.
Whitehall sources have told the Mail Mr Johnson may be forced publicly to declare exactly how the costly refurbishment was funded.
One source said further details were likely to be revealed in an updated register of ministerial interests, which could be released as early as this week.
But Mr Johnson first has to appoint a new adviser on ministerial standards – a post that has been vacant since Sir Alex Allen resigned in November in protest at the PM’s refusal to sack Home Secretary Priti Patel over bullying allegations.
The appointment was due to be announced last week but the preferred candidate is said to be ‘wobbling’ about whether to accept the post.
The ministerial register is separate to that produced by Parliament.
It would not typically be used for declaring donations to ministers – although there are signs that Downing Street might argue that is the appropriate place to list the flat arrangements.
Cabinet Secretary Simon Case yesterday confirmed Mr Johnson had wanted to set up a charitable trust more than 12 months ago to pay for the flat’s refit.
But he said it was now clear that it would be illegal for a charitable trust to pay for the upkeep of private quarters.