Priti Patel was accused last night of a ‘glaring and flagrant’ breach of the Ministerial Code after she lobbied a fellow minister on behalf of a healthcare firm trying to seal a £20million deal for PPE.
Labour demanded an inquiry by Cabinet Secretary Simon Case.
It comes just months after Boris Johnson allowed the Home Secretary to keep her job despite an earlier finding that she broke the code by bullying staff.
Dominic Grieve, the former Tory attorney general, said: ‘This is quite astonishing. This Government seems to have no idea of the basics of propriety in procurement.’
Home Secretary Priti Patel with Samir Jassal, a two-time parliamentary candidate and Tory councillor in Kent, when he stood for Feltham in west London in the 2017 general election
A Daily Mail investigation revealed:
- Miss Patel lobbied Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove in April last year over a £20million contract for surgical masks for Pharmaceuticals Direct Ltd (PDL) after an approach from her former adviser Samir Jassal;
- Her efforts failed after Health Secretary Matt Hancock decided the masks were ‘not suitable for the NHS’;
- Weeks later the firm was awarded a no-bid, no-competition deal worth £102.6million to supply a better type of mask;
- The Home Secretary made no declaration about Mr Jassal’s approach, or mention his links to PDL;
- Mr Jassal, a two-time parliamentary candidate and Tory councillor in Kent, played a key role in negotiating the more lucrative deal, with the masks priced at almost twice the Government’s ‘benchmark’ rate;
- That deal is now being challenged at a High Court judicial review brought by the Good Law Project and the Home Secretary’s role is certain to feature.
Miss Patel insists she did nothing wrong. Her spokesman 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.’
But Labour’s letter to Mr Case, signed by deputy leader Angela Rayner and Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds, said: ‘It is difficult to reach any conclusion other than that the Home Secretary lobbied the Government on behalf of PDL as a favour to her friend, Samir Jassal.
Mr Jassal has often been seen with other senior Conservatives including Boris Johnson and his predecessors Theresa May and David Cameron
Miss Patel lobbied Michael Gove in April last year over a £20million contract for surgical masks for Pharmaceuticals Direct Ltd (PDL)
‘This would represent a glaring and flagrant breach of the Ministerial Code.’
They added: ‘The Home Secretary was lobbying for huge amounts of taxpayers’ money to be spent on PPE that was unsafe for use by frontline NHS staff… The public has a right to know why the Home Secretary lobbied ministers on behalf of a client of Samir Jassal, her friend, former ‘adviser’ and a prominent Conservative Party activist.’
The letter said the inquiry ‘must include not only the representations made by the Home Secretary on behalf of PDL in this instance, but also any further representations and any impact this or any other lobbying had on PDL being awarded a subsequent contract worth over £100million’.
Constitutional expert Sir Jeffrey Jowell QC, former director of the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, said: ‘A Government minister who makes representations to another minister, with the objective of furthering the financial interests of a former employee and friend, and without disclosing the connection, is in breach of the Ministerial Code.’
Mr Jassal, 35, a married father-of-three, has often been seen with other senior Conservatives including Boris Johnson and his predecessors Theresa May and David Cameron, environment minister Zac Goldsmith, Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg and former chancellor Sajid Javid.
When he stood for Feltham in west London in the 2017 general election, Miss Patel campaigned with him. She tweeted a photo of them and wrote that she was ‘delighted’ to join him canvassing.
Formerly in property, Mr Jassal now describes himself as a ‘healthcare and pharmaceutical partner’.
The Mail has revealed previous PPE scandals including the existence of a VIP ‘fast lane’ for firms referred by officials and politicians but this is the first time a minister has been directly implicated.
Early in the pandemic, PDL pitched to supply KN95 masks from China – white cardboard coverings that were later deemed unsafe for use in the NHS by the Health and Safety Executive.
PDL thought it was close to a £20million deal. But on April 29, it was told it was off – prompting PDL’s sales chief Surbjit Shergill to write to Miss Patel, after an introduction from Mr Jassal, saying ‘trust’ had been broken.
His letter – addressed to ‘Dear Priti’ – began: ‘Many thanks for speaking to Samir [Jassal] and allowing me to contact you with my current issue.’
She wrote to Mr Gove on May 3 because the Cabinet Office was co-ordinating PPE procurement. She enclosed Mr Shergill’s letter and wrote that the cancelled order meant PDL had been exposed to ‘financial pressure’.
Miss Patel told Mr Gove: ‘I would be most grateful if you could review this matter urgently… and work with the company to distribute and supply these masks.’
A reply came not from Mr Gove but Mr Hancock. He said experts agreed ‘the KN95 is not suitable for use in the NHS’. But he added he ‘appreciated’ the work PDL had done and had asked his team ‘to liaise directly with Mr Shergill’.
PDL secured its £102.6million contract for higher-quality FPP3 masks in July, with Mr Jassal playing a key role. Government lawyers have told the Good Law Project that after Mr Shergill submitted a quotation, Mr Jassal ‘followed up with emails and phone calls’.
Senior officials were worried. In emails, they noted that the ‘benchmark price’ was £2.69 per mask, yet PDL was charging £5.13.
The officials insisted David Williams, then the Department of Health’s accounting officer, must sign off on the deal. Persuaded that demand was high, he did.
Jolyon Maugham QC, the Good Law Project’s executive director, said: ‘Priti Patel may not have secured PDL a contract when they first tried to get one in April, but we hope to determine whether her representations or those of other ministerial contacts of PDL helped when they were awarded their much more lucrative deal in July.’
PDL chief executive Bemal Patel said it had ‘met its full obligations’ under the contract, while Mr Jassal ‘was not employed’ by the firm.
Mr Jassal did not respond to requests for comment.