Today the BBC published text messages between the Prime Minister and James Dyson – the vacuum cleaner bloke – showing the PM assuring the latter he would not have to pay extra tax if his company came to the UK to make ventilators during the pandemic.
Dyson’s firm is based in Singapore, and he was concerned about his senior staff’s tax status changing in the UK. So, he made that clear and – two weeks later –Rishi Sunak told a group of MPs that the tax status of people coming the UK to provide specific help during the pandemic would not change.
Since the publication of the texts, the government said it did everything it could to get the right equipment and was right to act fast in a crisis, with Boris Johnson saying he makes “absolutely no apology at all” when quizzed by Labour leader Keir Starmer at PMQs.
Dyson similarly defended himself and said he was “hugely proud” of his firm’s response in “the midst of a national emergency”, and that he would “do the same again if asked”.
But Labour called the revelations “jaw-dropping” and shadow business minister Lucy Powell told the BBC: “Frankly it stinks that a billionaire businessman can text the prime minister and get an immediate response and, apparently, an immediate change in policy.”
Dyson said his company spent £20m on developing free ventilators last year, though in the end they were not used, and he said neither he nor the company “received any benefit from the project”.
All in all it is a bit of a kerfuffle, to say the least, and the optics of the revelation are not great amid the government facing lobbying scandals from left, right and centre.
Anyway, we have got our hands on the text ourselves, and we are not surprised Labour think they are “jaw-dropping”. Here is the conversation in full (as we imagine it might have happened...)
James Dyson: Hey Bozza, wubu2? I’ve been thinking about supplying ventilators to the UK to but I’m feeling a bit meh about tax, any chance you can sort us out? xx
Boris Johnson: Listen mate, we need ventilators ASAP! Dave went a bit too far with cuts to the NHS lol, bit of a mare, but that’s just Dave all over he always takes a joke too far. You should have seen him at Oxford!
Anyway, I digress, I will ensure you have whatever you need mate, tax, no tax. I’ll even send you a thank you card on Moonpig, just please let’s get this going, my position in the polls is jolly well dropping. xx
James Dyson: OK cool obvs I really want to help stop coronavirus etc. and PR have already come up with a great slogan our next range -
“Dyson: helping you breathe, so we can help you clean... your carpet.”
What do you think? It needs a bit of work but the optics are great, we just don’t want to have to end up forking out on that silly little tax thing... xx
Boris Johnson: Fantastic, James and I must admit I am a man with a penchant for a Henry Hoover, for my sins, but I will jolly well banish Henry into the depths of my basement for your vacuum cleaner instead should you wish to help your old friend Britain out.
Indeed, I’ve just slid into Rishi’s DMs and he said its fine. It is fixed!! xx
James Dyson: omg thanks! Idk whether to trust you though, no offence, people are just always going on about your lies and as much as I stan Brexit, that figure on the side of a bus bit you did was a bit iffy. x
Boris Johnson: Look Dicey, with all due respect, do you know who I am?
I am the first Lord of the Treasury. You can take it that we are backing you to do what you need.