Boris Johnson was dragged into a lobbying ‘sleaze’ row last night after rejecting pleas to change his phone number over concerns that he was constantly being approached for help.
Cabinet Secretary Simon Case is said to have raised the issue with the PM last year, telling him he was being asked for help by MPs, lobbyists and others in the business world so often because his number was too widely known.
But Mr Johnson, who has had the same phone number for more than a decade, refused to change it.
The Prime Minister yesterday brushed aside allegations of ‘sleaze’ after leaked text messages showed he promised billionaire inventor James Dyson that he would ‘fix’ his company’s tax problems.
Boris Johnson last night rejected pleas to change his phone number after he was dragged into a lobbying ‘sleaze’ row
Mr Johnson said ‘no apology’ was due for helping Sir James develop a new ventilator at the height of the pandemic. He told MPs that ‘any prime minister’ would have done it at the time.
Last March, Sir James directly lobbied the PM to waive rules that could have seen overseas staff charged UK tax if they came here to work on the life-saving project.
The following month, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a temporary waiving of the rules.
But to the frustration of Sir James, the deal took weeks to agree.
And sources told the Mail the Chancellor rejected another request from Sir James, who wanted guarantees that the company, now based in Singapore, would not attract additional corporation tax if it held board meetings in the UK to discuss the project.
A source at the firm said it was ‘utterly misleading and false to imply that any benefit or advantage was being sought beyond ensuring that neither the company nor its employees would be inadvertently penalised for their work on the national emergency’.
Ministers were last night on the hunt for a suspected Labour mole who leaked the private text exchanges.
The messages were leaked to the BBC, but senior Tories believe they may originally have been given to Labour by a disaffected Whitehall official, before being passed to the corporation.
One senior Tory said: ‘We are seeing a theme here – first a whole load of leaks about Greensill and now this. All of it designed to damage us and help Labour. It is appalling.’
Labour called for Parliament’s powerful liaison committee to launch an inquiry into the Dyson affair, which comes on the heels of revelations that David Cameron lobbied ministers to help failed finance firm Greensill Capital.
Cabinet Secretary Simon Case is said to have raised the issue with the PM last year
A spokesman for Sir Keir Starmer said the PM had broken the ministerial code by discussing government business without officials present. But Downing Street said the PM had informed officials of all his exchanges with Sir James.
During angry clashes in the Commons, Sir Keir suggested it was ‘one rule for those that have got the Prime Minister’s phone number, another for everybody else’.
Billionaire’s move back to UK
Sir James Dyson has moved his main address back to Britain two years after controversially relocating to tax haven Singapore.
The tycoon’s main country of residence was updated on Tuesday, according to documents at Companies House. The change appeared in filings for Weybourne, the business that controls the billionaire’s fortune.
A spokesman for Sir James, 73, confirmed the change. The tycoon and wife Lady Deirdre reportedly sold their Singapore penthouse for £34.5million last year.
Mr Johnson responded: ‘I make absolutely no apology at all for shifting heaven and earth and doing everything I possibly could, as I think any prime minister would in those circumstances, to secure ventilators for the people of this country.’
The row relates to the ‘Ventilator Challenge’ launched by the PM last year to try to develop and build new ventilators to save the lives of Covid patients.
Dyson was one of a string of firms asked to work on the project.
The firm said it spent £20 million of its own money on the project, although its design was not selected. Dyson’s issues emerged because, unlike the other firms involved, it was based abroad.
The company wrote to the Treasury on March 15 asking for several tax changes to enable it to temporarily relocate staff to the UK to work on the project.
When the Treasury did not respond, Sir James, pictured left, took up the issue directly with the PM.
He said in a text that the firm was ready to help but that ‘sadly’ it seemed no one wanted it to proceed. Mr Johnson replied: ‘I will fix it tomo! We need you.’
The PM then texted him again saying: ‘Rishi says it is fixed! We need you here.’
Sir James said yesterday: ‘When the Prime Minister rang me to ask Dyson to urgently build ventilators, of course I said yes.
‘We were in the midst of an national emergency and I am hugely proud of Dyson’s response – I would do the same again if asked.
‘It is absurd to suggest that the urgent correspondence was anything other than seeking compliance with rules, as 450 Dyson people – in the UK and Singapore – worked around the clock, seven days a week to build potentially life-saving equipment at a time of dire need.’