Politics

The Michelle Mone PPE controversy explained

Rishi Sunak says he's ‘absolutely shocked’ by Mone's Covid contract allegations

Tory peer Michelle Mone is requesting a leave of absence from the House of Lords following allegations she financially benefited from a company she recommended to receive Covid contracts.

The peer has asked not to attend the House of Lords as more allegations come to light - allegations that her spokesman says have been "unjustly levelled against her".

Labour forced MPs to pass a motion making them publish texts emails and other emails related to the contracts. She is also being investigated by the Lords.

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Here's everything you need to know about the scandal:

Who is Mone?

Mone is a businesswoman and the founder of the lingerie company Ultimo. She has appeared on reality TV including The Apprentice's aftershow and joined the House of Lords in 2015 thanks to David Cameron.

She has not taken part in a vote since April this year and has not spoken in a debate since March 2020.

    What is being alleged about Mone?

    Mone has been linked to PPE Medpro which won two government contracts worth £203m to supply masks and medical gowns between May and June 2020 through controversial VIP lanes.

    The gowns were never used after failing NHS quality checks.

    Last year, she denied benefitting financially from the business.

    Meanwhile, the Times says Whitehall sources said she would “bully and hector” to get the contracts, leading Michael Gove to describe her as “a right pain in the arse”.

    And the Guardian also reported Lady Mone lobbied on behalf of the company, LFI Diagnostics for Covid lateral flow tests.

    Earlier this week former health secretary Matt Hancock claimed Lady Mone had aggressively lobbied him on behalf of another company in a row over a different set of contracts last year.

    In his diaries he wrote: “Baroness Michelle Mone has sent me an extraordinarily aggressive email complaining that a company she’s helping isn’t getting the multimillion-pound contracts it deserves.

    “She claims the firm, which makes lateral flow test kits, ‘has had a dreadful time’ trying to cut through red tape and demanded my ‘urgent help’ before it all comes out in the media. ‘I am going to blow this all wide open,’ she threatened.”

    Tories abstained from Labour's vote to publish documents about the contracts but it passed anyway and now she will take her leave of absence.

    Lady Mone is currently under investigation by the House of Lords commissioner for standards, with parliament's website saying the probe is over "alleged involvement in procuring contracts for PPE Medpro leading to potential breaches…of the House of Lords code of conduct".

    PPE Medpro has also become the subject of a potential fraud investigation by the National Crime Agency.

    PPE Medpro has said that it had delivered 100 per cent of the contract to the terms specified and that it had supplied equipment "fully in accordance with the agreed contract, which included clear terms as to technical specification and performance criteria of the products."

    How have people reacted to the news?

    Steve Barclay said: “She’s taken a leave of absence from the House of Lords, so she’s not able to go to the House of Lords, and it’s right that these issues are investigated and that’s what the department is doing. That’s what the House of Lords authorities are doing.”

    Speaking in the House of Commons, Labour's deputy leader Angela Rayner said "the public needs answers" about the government's "shameful dealings" with companies that received contracts through the VIP fast-track procurement process during the pandemic. Releasing documents would be the "first step in restoring faith", she added.

    Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper also called for Sunak to suspend Mone's whip, adding: "This is more proof if any were needed that Sunak's pledge of integrity has been reduced to dust."

    What other controversies has Mone faced?

    Mone is no stranger to controversy.

    Earlier this year, she paid a settlement understood to be more than £50,000 to settle a libel claim from a former friend of Indian heritage who had previously accused her of sending him a racist message in June 2019, calling him “a waste of a man’s white skin”.

    Responding to the PPE stories, the Department of Health told the BBC: "Due diligence was carried out on all companies that were referred to the department and every company was subjected to the same checks.

    "We acted swiftly to procure PPE at the height of the pandemic, competing in an overheated global market where demand massively outstripped supply."

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