Met will reveal the number given FPNs at each event

The London Playbook from POLITICO

PARTYGATE LATEST: The Telegraph’s Ben Riley-Smith has seen a copy of the questionnaire sent by the Metropolitan Police to Boris Johnson and No. 10 staff involved in the Partygate scandal. One line in particular makes for interesting reading: “The MPS [Metropolitan Police Service] approach during the pandemic has been to confirm the number of FPNs [fixed penalty notices] issued at particular events and to explain what those FPNs were issued for.” This raises the prospect that, even though the Met has said it won’t name those it fines, it will reveal the number who were fined at each event and explain how they broke the law. Johnson will not publish his answers to the questionnaire, No. 10 said yesterday, but the PM vowed he would have “a lot more to say” on the allegations against him once the police probe concludes.

Private Eye | Profits of Doom : How to make £600m disappear

THE plot thickens in the mystery of the missing £600m or so paid to the interior design company, Unispace Global Ltd, that bagged a handful of major PPE contracts via the government’s VIP lane between April and June 2020.

Profits of Doom ,

The last Eye reported how the accounts for the company that had contracted with the Department of Health and Social Care for gloves, overalls and masks showed no sign of the money in its 2020 accounts, while less than helpful government spending data did not give the legal entity to which vast amounts of taxpayers’ money had been handed over. It seemed the money must simply have been paid to another, presumably related, company. So which was it?

Questionable accounts

The health department has since responded to the Eye’s freedom of information request for the details to say that in fact all the payments on the contracts were made to Unispace Global Ltd. At which point it gets serious. Since the contracts were concluded and fulfilled entirely within 2020, and the payments also made within the year, the nine-figure amounts should have been included in the company’s turnover for the year. The accounts, however, give the turnover as £64m, with the only source of income mentioned that of interior design (which in previous years generated more than this).

Last March the Unispace group, set up in Australia by brothers Gareth and Charles Hales, was sold to Hong Kong investment company Pacific Alliance Group, founded and chaired by the man called “China’s private equity champion” by Fortune magazine, Weijian Shan. It was under this new ownership that the questionable Unispace Global Ltd accounts were filed.

No comment

The Eye has repeatedly asked Unispace to explain the missing hundreds of millions of pounds and has not been given any response. One chartered accountant consulted by the Eye described the omission as “inexplicable”; another said he could see “no legitimate reason”.

In a normal country the failure to account for £600m of public money, for whatever reason, would attract searching official questions. But in one dripping with financial foul play but little interest in tackling it, there are no guarantees the money will ever be found.

Covid face masks could be turned into hospital curtains and bedsheets

Ministers are looking at turning used and out-of-date Covid face masks into NHS hospital curtains and bed sheets after ordering billions more than were needed during the pandemic.

Luke Andrews (Extract) 

More than 36.4billion items of personal protective equipment (PPE) have been ordered by the UK Government since the start of the pandemic in March 2020. 

But ministers were condemned after it emerged earlier this month that £2.2billion worth of masks, visors and aprons are set to expire before they can be used.

Junior health minister Edward Argar revealed today that officials are ‘exploring’ recycling the gear to avoid huge amounts of waste.

Leaked emails reveal Government officials manipulated VIP lane data after NAO investigation 

New leaked emails seen by Good Law Project suggest that senior officials at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the Cabinet Office knew that many more PPE suppliers were given the VIP treatment than the 47 names they reported to the National Audit Office (NAO). 

In November 2020, the NAO published its investigation into Government procurement during the pandemic. A week after the NAO report was released, the Government’s Chief Commercial Officer Gareth Rhys Williams emailed the senior civil servants responsible for PPE procurement asking them to provide data on these VIPs, with a plea at the end of the message that the data “should total to the NAO PPE Spend numbers…..pls”.

The following morning, on 3 December 2020, the Director of PPE Procurement forwarded Rhys Williams’ email onto civil servants, asking: “Can you pls assist with the below request and calculate the spend with the VIP suppliers (see excel in attached email), in comparison to that with the non-VIP suppliers. And ensure the total adds to the numbers reported in the NAO reports?”

The demand that the VIP data match the data referred to in the NAO report caused dismay among civil servants. They seem to have been told to manipulate their data after the fact so that it matched what was given to the NAO. We’ve seen emails that suggest civil servants believed the figures supplied to the NAO may have been made up. We want to know the full story and understand what really happened.

We also want to know how the Government arrived at the figures they supplied to the NAO. The leaked VIP spreadsheet shows that the names of 21 VIP companies were not given to the NAO, 18 of which were only revealed by us last week.

Those 18 VIPs were collectively awarded £984 million in PPE contracts after receiving VIP treatment. 

In total, the 68 VIPs uncovered so far have been awarded £4.9 billion in PPE contracts, all without competition. This goes far beyond the figure the Government gave the NAO

On Friday night, following our latest investigation, the DHSC quietly snuck out an update on its website  to include one more VIP: a company called Technicare Ltd, trading as Blyth Group, were handed a PPE contract after a referral from the office of Gavin Williamson MP. 

Good Law Project approached the DHSC and Cabinet Office for comment, but both said they won’t comment on leaked information.

A copy of the emails can be seen here.

Boris Johnson’s responses to Partygate police questionnaire ‘will not be made public’

Defence minister James Heappey said earlier on Monday that the prime minister would argue that he is “not culpable” of the potential Covid offences being probed by the police.

“I certainly don’t think the prime minister should volunteer his culpability,” the minister told Sky News. “His argument is that he is not culpable. We should wait and see what the police come back with.”

“Don’t blame me, I’m the Prime Minister. One rule for them, another rule for us. – Owl 

Boris Johnson’s responses to his Metropolitan Police questionnaire into social gatherings at No 10 will not be made public, Downing Street has said.

The prime minister insisted he will have “a lot more” to say on the partygate scandal once the Scotland Yard probe is concluded.

The Met has sent the questionnaire to Mr Johnson and approximately 50 staff members as it investigates a dozen gatherings at No 10 while strict Covid rules were still in place.

On an official visit to Scotland, Mr Johnson was asked whether he and his lawyers had responded to the police questionnaire yet.

He told reporters: “All that process has got to be completed before I can say anything more, but I look forward to telling you a lot more in due course.”

The prime minister’s official spokesman said: “As we said on Friday, we will respond as required. As you know, I think the Met made clear that that was in seven days, so we will comply with that requirement.”

Asked if the responses would be made public, the No 10 spokesman said: “No.”

Mr Johnson’s allies have told the press that Mr Johnson plans to argue he was working in his flat on the night of the alleged “Abba party” in November 2020, shortly after senior aide Dominic Cummings left No 10.

The prime minister, who has appointed his own lawyer, is also set to claim the three leaving parties he attended were part of his job. “Saying goodbye to staff is part of working life,” a source told The Times.

The PM has already claimed that he believed “implicitly” that the “bring your own booze” garden party at No 10 in May 2020 was a work event.

Defence minister James Heappey said earlier on Monday that the prime minister would argue that he is “not culpable” of the potential Covid offences being probed by the police.

“I certainly don’t think the prime minister should volunteer his culpability,” the minister told Sky News. “His argument is that he is not culpable. We should wait and see what the police come back with.”

Allies say he will not resign even if he is fined, in a move that would be likely to trigger Tory MPs to force a vote of confidence in his leadership.

Fifteen Tory MPs have publicly called for Mr Johnson to quit, while more are thought to have privately written to the 1922 Committee of backbench Tories calling for a no-confidence vote.

More are poised to do so if the PM is found to have broken his own coronavirus laws, or further damaging details emerge from the Sue Gray inquiry.

He will face a vote of no confidence if 54 Conservative MPs write to 1922 Committee chairman Sir Graham Brady and would be ousted if more than half of his MPs subsequently voted against him.

Police are investigating a total of 12 gatherings in Downing Street on eight dates in an inquiry called Operation Hillman, which is examining whether Covid restrictions were broken.

Mr Johnson is believed to have attended at least six of the events.

Adam Wagner QC, a leading legal expert on Covid rules, has suggested it could take “months” for Scotland Yard to conclude its investigation if Mr Johnson is “lawyered up”.

‘Boris Johnson is the worst PM I have seen – out of 15’

Letter published in the Sidmouth Herald

Herald Letters Published: February 14, 2022

There have been fourteen Prime Ministers in my lifetime, Boris Johnson is the fifteenth, but without doubt he is the worst. 

I have never disrespected any previous Prime Minister or thought they were unfit for office – until now.

During World War II, I remember as a young child sitting with my parents listening on the radio to a man they called ‘Winston’. 

It was several years before I understood why my parents respected Winston Churchill, the leader who saw them through those dark days, reassuring them when possible but always inspiring them to face the huge challenges ahead.

Boris Johnson’s honesty and decency are in doubt but he is determined to fight every inch of the way and preserve his own skin before he will resign. 

Several Prime Ministers over the years have taken the decision to leave office with dignity – Anthony Eden after Suez and recently David Cameron after losing the Referendum are two examples.

It is disgraceful that Boris is focused on preserving his own  self interest at the expense of our system of Government. He even resorts to hurling reprehensible untrue slurs at Keir Starmer about Jimmy Saville. 

This is a very dangerous path to tread which should remind us of the excesses of Donald Trump. 

His response to how far he has fallen in the estimation of the British public is table a flurry of ‘levelling up’ plans (with no new money) and all kinds of projects to come to fruition in eight years’ time – surely we can not stand another eight years of Boris?

One can’t help noticing his flying visit to Ukraine, where he was given VIP treatment and a guard of honour at the airport, was a great escape from his position at home.

Whatever your politics, I urge you to consider the Prime Minister’s record and the implications for our tradition of high standards in public office when you decide whether to continue to support him.