After stopping short of ordering an investigation yesterday, the PM’s spokesman said the Cabinet Office will now be looking into how the messages were made public.
The move comes amid Tory fears of a civil service mole trying to sabotage the government. The BBC revealed that Mr Johnson promised billionaire inventor Sir James he would ‘fix’ a tax rule so his staff could help make ventilators for the NHS.
The PM’s spokesman said today: ‘I can confirm that yes, we have instructed the Cabinet Office to look into this. The position has changed from yesterday.
He refused to say what had sparked the shift, saying: ‘As you would expect we continually look at this and the position we decided today is that we want to make sure that we have this internal inquiry. So the Cabinet Office will be getting that under way.
‘It is to get into the source of leaks of private communication of the Prime Minister … as it relates to this issue with Dyson. It is limited to that.’
No10 insisted there was no official investigation yesterday, although informal scoping was believed to have been taking place to try to find the origin.
Senior Tories are convinced that the messages could only have come from civil servants who would have been shown records under government rules. However, others have suggested Mr Johnson circulates similar kinds of private messages quite freely among aides.
A government source stressed yesterday that the way the leaks had emerged might not be straightforward. ‘It could be several places not just the obvious one,’ the source said.
Downing Street today declared that a formal leak inquiry is under way after Boris Johnson’s (pictured) private texts to James Dyson emerged
Mr Johnson promised Sir James Dyson (left) that tycoon’s staff would not have to pay additional tax if they came to the UK to make ventilators for the NHS
Mr Johnson mounted a furious defence yesterday as he came under fire over the leaked texts.
He roared back as he was berated by Keir Starmer over ‘sleaze’ at PMQs, saying he made ‘no apology’ for pulling out all the stops at the height of the crisis.
The premier said he had been moving ‘heaven and earth’ to get as many ventilators as possible amid dire warnings the health service would be overwhelmed with patients who needed them.
Mr Johnson also suggested he is willing to release his full private communications with the billionaire inventor, who had volunteered to help at no profit.
But Sir Keir said: ‘Every day there are new allegations about this Conservative Government: dodgy PPE deals; tax breaks for their mates; the Health Secretary owns shares in a company delivering NHS services.
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.
‘Sleaze, sleaze, sleaze, and it’s all on his watch.’
The angry clashes came as MPs raised the alarm about civil service sabotage, with a molehunt ongoing.
One former ministers pointed out Mr Johnson would have been obliged to disclose the messages to officials, and highlighted the slew of recent leaks over alleged cronyism and the Greensill lobbying row.
Another MP told MailOnline: ‘There is a horrible leaker in the Cabinet Office or No10.’
The PM’s spokesman insisted he had ‘complied with the ministerial code’ – which states that if discussion are held without officials present ‘any significant content should be passed back to the department as soon as possible’.
Downing Street said yesterday there was no official hunt going on for the culprit, although informal efforts were thought to be in progress.
Treasury sources have dismissed suggestions Mr Sunak was concerned about the text exchange, and denied the leak had come from his allies.
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 is 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.
Last month WhatsApp messages between Matt Hancock and a former neighbour who supplied the NHS with test tubes emerged, sparking questions over how they had come into the public domain.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said that Mr Johnson ‘averted an even greater crisis’ on ventilators last spring with his text exchanges with Sir James.
‘I don’t think it’s unfair in the sense that people are trying to lobby ministers, lobby MPs, all the time,’ he told Sky News.
‘In this particular instance, I think we’re trying to create a story where there isn’t one.
‘The Prime Minister was very clear yesterday that he would have done exactly the same thing again, he had a duty, as far as he was concerned, to make sure that we got ventilators made here in the UK.
‘At the time, as you will remember, there was a huge crisis in Italy precisely because they hadn’t produced enough ventilators, and that was the thing that we had to do.
‘He moved, in his words, the Prime Minister said, he moved heaven and earth to try and make sure we got ventilators made here in the UK. That’s what happened – it averted an even greater crisis and it saved lives.’
Mr Kwarteng said that it was ‘very good’ that business leaders and constituents had ‘direct access’ to ministers and those making decisions in Whitehall.
‘I think that in the real world, in reality, people are contacting ministers, contacting MPs, all the time,’ he told Sky News.
‘Business people are contacting MPs all the time, constituents also contact me on my phone.
‘I think that in a modern democracy it’s very good that people actually can have direct access to ministers and people who are taking responsibility.’
Source: Daily Mail UK