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.