Rishi Sunak has turned on the scandal-hit Tory peer Michelle Mone, telling MPs he is “absolutely shocked” by the allegations about Covid contracts.
The prime minister also confirmed the lingerie millionaire has lost the Conservative whip – after she announced a leave of absence from the House of Lords to try to clear her name.
Until now, ministers have declined to comment on the allegations, over lucrative contracts given to the company PPE Medpro which she recommended to ministers.
But Mr Sunak told MPs: “Like everyone else I was absolutely shocked to read about the allegations. It’s absolutely right that she is no longer attending the House of Lords and therefore no longer has the Conservative whip.”
But Keir Starmer ridiculed the claim that the claims were a surprise, saying: “He says he is shocked, he was the chancellor – he signed the cheques.”
On Tuesday, the Commons passed a motion to secure the release of texts and emails behind what Labour calls “a cover up”, but not until “all investigations are concluded”, the government said.
It was reported last week that Baroness Mone and her children will benefit from £29m of PPE Medpro’s profits, paid into an offshore trust – despite her earlier denial of any “role or function” in the company.
The Guardian has now claimed she lobbied for another company, LFI Diagnostics – apparently fronted by her husband, Douglas Barrowman – to be awarded contracts to provide lateral flow tests.
In his diaries, Matt Hancock wrote that, in June 2021, when he was health secretary, the peer sent him an “extraordinarily aggressive” and “threatening” email about a company’s attempt to secure a testing contract.
It is believed this is a reference to LFI Diagnostics, which did not receive a contract. Neither Baroness Mone, nor Mr Barrowman responded to The Guardian’s claim.
The health department is mediating with PPE Medpro over an “underperforming contract” to supply medical gowns. The company received £122m in the 2020 rush to combat the pandemic.
The Lords’ standards watchdog is also investigating, but the inquiry has been paused “while the matter is under investigation by the police or another agency as part of a criminal investigation”.
During prime minister’s questions, Sir Keir demanded to know: “How did his colleague Baroness Mone end up with nearly £30m of taxpayers’ money in her bank account?”
He also described Mr Sunak as a “blancmange prime minister” who – through his housebuilding U-turn – had “sold out the aspirations of those who want to own their own home”.
Mr Sunak told him, on Baroness Mone: “The one thing we know about him is he is a lawyer. He should know there is a process in place. It is right that that process concludes. I hope that it is resolved promptly.”
Later, senior Labour MP Kevin Brennan accused Mr Sunak of “being on the side of the spivs” lining their pockets with vast sums from PPE contracts “rather than the nurses”.