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DAILY BRIEFING

DAILY BRIEFING

Another review? Don't Mone

Written by Katie Armour, senior associate
Edited by Scott Reid, associate partner

18 January 2022 

Good morning,

Baroness Michelle Mone of Mayfair, formerly Glasgow, will be very displeased to be back in the papers for all the wrong reasons.

Currently defending a libel case for racist remarks, she is now the subject of an inquiry by the House of Lords commissioner for standards. The investigation will look into her use of the covid contract “VIP lane” that was ruled unlawful in the High Court last week.

Judge Finola O’Farrell found that the preferential high-speed government procurement route, which saw MPs, peers and high-level officials refer their contacts for major government PPE contracts, was “in breach of the obligation of equal treatment”.

The opaque VIP route led to various large and lucrative contracts being awarded to Conservative donors and companies who have links to government ministers. There were 47 companies awarded contracts this way and a host of top political figures from Dominic Cummings to Esther McVey and Matt Hancock were noted as having pointed them the right way.  

Mone is accused of being tied to PPE provider, PPE Medpro, and the commissioner is investigating her on the back of a complaint by Labour Lord Foulkes that her actions were “bringing the house into disrepute”.

The underwear tycoon has repeatedly denied any involvement or even association with the company. But leaked files, which made their way to The Guardian at the turn of the year, showed that Lady Mone and her husband, the Isle of Man-based financier Douglas Barrowman, were quietly involved.

PPE Medpro (a company established in May 2020) was awarded £203m in contract values to supply masks and surgical gowns and is suspected to have made £40m profit from the venture. All following Mone’s referral.

The House of Lords code of conduct states that no member can ever accept “any financial inducement as an incentive or reward for exercising parliamentary influence”. Yet if Lady Mone had no interest or association with the firm, one wonders why civil service communications from the time reference Mone being “incandescent with rage” to senior ministers over the company’s treatment while WhatsApp messages reveal she was discussing gown sizes. (Note Mone’s lawyers argued she could not be expected to comment on “unknown and unattributable WhatsApp messages”).

In an apt parallel, the news comes on the same day we discover that the Treasury has decided to write off the collection of more than £4.3bn of public cash that was stolen by fraudsters from covid support schemes.

A taskforce set up to oversee a claw back of the stolen cash recovered £500m last year and is expecting to recoup an additional £1bn this year. By The Mirror’s deductions that means that only £1 in every £4 dishonestly taken will make its way back into the public coffers.

Talking about the Mone case, deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said that this was the “latest in a drip, drip of concerning revelations”. It is also further confirmation of the staggering cost of the pandemic overall and who benefited appropriately or inappropriately. As we unpick the final bill we might find more unpleasant surprises.

News

The Taliban pepper sprayed women protesting on the streets of Kabul yesterday as they marched to demand rights in work and education settings. The women were also protesting forced wearing of the hijab, harassment by the Taliban and the requirement to be accompanied by a male relative chaperone when going out in public. (£)

Some Conservative MPs are reported to be “upping pressure’ on the PM to resign as part of “Operation Rinka”, an exercise named after the dog killed in the Jeremy Thorpe affair in the 1970s. This group are making specific backbench lobbying efforts, especially with Conservatives elected in 2019.

Ministers suffered a significant defeat on their proposed new crime bill in the House of Lords, after peers made a series of amendments to its plans to clamp down on “disruptive and noisy” protest. The Lords also voted to designate misogyny a hate crime. The bill will now return to the House of Commons.

Business and economy

UK job vacancies hit a record high following the end of furlough government support in September. Between October and December last year, UK job vacancies rose to 1.24 million – 462,000 higher than the three months before the pandemic began, the ONS estimates. Wages, excluding bonuses, also grew at an annual rate of 3.8% between September and November.The Scottish Crown Estate’s first leasing round in more than a decade “far exceeded expectations” with energy giants including Shell, BP and Scottish Power agreeing to pay £700m collectively for the rights to build 25 gigawatts of offshore wind. The projects are expected to bring in about £25bn investment in Scottish supply chains. (£) 

UK energy companies are exploring “radical interventions” to the power market where the government would pay suppliers when wholesale gas prices exceeded an agreed threshold so the costs were not passed on to consumers. Government insiders have reportedly branded the plans “plausible”. (£)

Columns of note

Former Cabinet member, Norman Tebbit warns in The Telegraph that Boris Johnson should “beware the silent Cabinet minister” and suggests the current political climate reminds him of the fall of Thatcher and John Major’s excuse for not being there to support her being toothache. (£)

William Hague writes in The Times that Boris Johnson needs to “work fast to save himself”, suggesting that strengthening the standards regime and embarking on changes to the House of Lords would be a good place to start. (£)

Markets

What happened yesterday?

London stocks closed in a relatively positive state on Monday, as the pharmaceutical market digested the news that GlaxoSmithKline had rejected a major offer from Unilever.

The FTSE 100 ended the session up 0.91% at 7,611.23 points, and the FTSE 250 was up 0.56% at 22,871.64.

Sterling was in negative territory, 0.17% weaker against the dollar at $1.36 and 0.1% weaker against the euro, changing hands at €1.19.

In company news:

GlaxoSmithKline shares jumped by 3.91% in the wake of it rejecting a £50bn offer from Unilever, while Unilever shares ended the day down 6.52%. Reports that all Covid-19 restrictions could be scrapped “within days” in England saw Cineworld’s shares rise by 4.52%. Shares in Darktrace fell by 7.06% after it was attached as a “watery-thin” enterprise by short seller ShadowFall.

What’s happening today?

AGMsTracsis

Interim Dividend Payment DateArgentex Group

Trading AnnouncementHays

did you know

Last night we saw the first full moon of 2022, known as the wolf moon in the month of January. You can see a collection of pictures of the full moon across Britain here and a list of the moon names and dates for the whole year ahead here

Source: Financial Times

Parliamentary highlights

House of Commons 

Oral QuestionsHealth and social care 

Ten Minute Rule MotionDigital Devices

LegislationSecond reading of the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill 

Money ResolutionMotion to approve a money resolution 

AdjournmentUK Government recognition of Somaliland 

Westminster Hall debateLevelling up in the east of EnglandSupport for small businesses in StreathamCost of gas and electricityTaxation of silage filmForecasting and modelling during Covid-19

House of Lords 

LegislationHealth and Care Bill  

Oral QuestionsAgenda for next meeting of EU-UK Partnership CouncilConsultation on the professional use of peatProjections for life expectancy and reviewing the state pension ageEquality of enforcement on lockdown restrictions  

LegislationHealth and Care Bill 

Short DebateAutomatic rights to British passports to people in the republic of Ireland who lived in Northern Ireland for more than 50 years

Scottish parliament 

Parliamentary Bureau Motions Topical QuestionsPeople with disabilities sin inpatient unitsOvo energy First Minister’s StatementCovid-19 Update Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee DebateRetrofitting of properties for net zero Legislative Consent MotionJudicial Review and Courts Bill Committee Announcements Business Motions Parliamentary Bureau Motions Members’ Business DebateScottish history in schools

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