Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds a news conference at 10 Downing Street, amid the coronavirus disease outbreak, in London, Tuesday April 20, 2021. (Toby Melville/Pool via AP)
LONDON (AP) — The British government said Wednesday that Prime Minister Boris Johnson did nothing wrong when he exchanged text messages with a wealthy industrialist and promised he would “fix” the tax rules for him.
The BBC reported that it had seen messages between Johnson and James Dyson, the vacuum cleaner inventor and home products magnate. The texts were sent in March 2020, when the coronavirus was sweeping across Britain and the government, fearing the health service would be overwhelmed, was trying to secure more ventilators. It approached the Singapore-based Dyson, who sought assurances that his staff members would not have to pay extra taxes if they came to Britain to work on the project.
According to the BBC, Johnson texted: “I will fix it tomo (tomorrow)! We need you. It looks fantastic. The main opposition Labour Party said the “jaw-dropping” revelations suggested that the prime minister had “used the power of his office to personally hand public money to a billionaire friend in the form of tax breaks.”
The British government denied wrongdoing, saying it “did everything we could in extraordinary times to protect our citizens and get access to the right medical equipment.” Dyson’s company did work on ventilators, but they did not go into full production. He said it was “absurd to suggest that the urgent correspondence was anything other than seeking compliance with rules, as 450 Dyson people — in U.K. and Singapore — worked around the clock, seven days a week to build potentially life-saving equipment at a time of dire need.”
The news comes on top of allegations of cronyism involving one of Johnson’s Conservative predecessors, former Prime Minister David Cameron.
Cameron, who led Britain between 2010 and 2016, lobbied on behalf of a now-bankrupt financial services firm, Greensill Capital, whose founder he had employed as an adviser. Greensill collapsed last month, threatening thousands of jobs at a British manufacturer, Liberty Steel, which it helped finance.
Cameron has denied wrongdoing. Both the government and Parliament have launched inquiries. Opposition parties are calling for tougher rules on links between government ministers, civil servants and businesses, saying Britain’s laxly enforced lobbying regulations leave the door open to corruption.
Source: Associated Press