On 22 February, in the aftermath of the High Court finding that Matt Hancock had broken the law by failing to publish PPE contracts, Boris Johnson told Parliament this:
“the contracts are there on the record for everybody to see” and “all the details are on the record”
You can see both references in Hansard here.
But what he told Parliament was just not true.
A large number of contracts – and details of those contracts – were neither “there for everybody to see” or “on the record”. Unlawfully their publication had been delayed.
One example is this £23m contract which was not published until 8 March. That contract was awarded by the Department of Health to Bunzl which was a client of a lobbying firm owned by a former Conservative Party Chairman, at the same time as that former Conservative Party Chairman was advising the Department of Health on “sourcing” (his words, not ours).
Another is this £103m contract, awarded to Pharmaceuticals Direct and not published until 29 March. Pharmaceuticals Direct’s named representative was Samir Jassal, a former Tory councillor who has had multiple meetings with the Prime Minister and other senior ministers, and has both donated money to and stood as an MP for the Conservative Party.
Indeed, several weeks after the Prime Minister misled Parliament it was still the case that not all of the contracts had been published. You can see this in the High Court’s final order which identified a hundred unpublished contracts.
The High Court case was brought by Good Law Project alongside MPs Debbie Abrahams, Caroline Lucas and Layla Moran. Those three MPs wrote to the Cabinet Secretary on 19 March and you can read their letter here. It points out that:
“the Prime Minister had falsely reassured MPs about the number of contracts that had been published”
And asked him to
“investigate this as a breach of the Ministerial code.”
On Friday they received a remarkable response from the Cabinet Secretary. Which you can read here. It makes no real attempt to grapple with the facts set out above and which cannot be disputed. And it sidesteps the request to investigate whether the Ministerial Code has been breached by pointing out that it is not the Cabinet Secretary’s responsibility to enforce the code (which, of course, is not what he was asked to do).
It is not a letter that ought to have been written by an impartial civil servant. You can read the MPs’ further response to the Cabinet Secretary here.
Jo Maugham QC
Director of Good Law Project
PS: Next Tuesday [11 May 2021] lunchtime, we’ll be running a defamation advice session for anyone who wants to speak truth to power. You can register to watch the live panel discussion here: https://glplive.org/evenbrite-defamation-panel
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