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Saturday, March 06, 2021

Did Boris Johnson mislead Parliament over Covid contracts?

As if it were not bad enough that a report by the National Audit Office (NAO) last year, had concluded that Covid contracts worth £18 billion to secure essentials such as PPE equipment in the initial months of the pandemic were plagued by “inadequate” documentation, that a number "were awarded retrospectively or had not been published in a timely manner, and that this had "diminished public transparency", we now have accusations that the Prime Minister has misled Parliament on this very subject.

The NAO also stated that the lack of adequate documentation meant they could not give assurance that government has adequately mitigated the increased risks arising from emergency procurement or applied appropriate commercial practices in all cases.

According to the Independent, the prime minister had claimed that the contracts, which are subject to a legal challenge and cronyism allegations, were “there on the record for everybody to see”, but a final order handed down by the High Court on Friday says the government had in fact only published “608 out of 708 relevant contracts”:

The order, by judge Mr Justice Chamberlain says: “The Defendant has published 608 out of 708 relevant contracts for supplies and services relating to COVID-19 awarded on or before 7 October 2020.

“In some or all of these cases, the Defendant acted unlawfully by failing to publish the contracts within the period set out in the Crown Commercial Service’s Publication of Central Government Tenders and Contracts: Central Government Transparency Guidance Note (November 2017).”

But Mr Johnson had told parliament on 22 February: "All I will say is that the contracts are there on the record for everybody to see.”

Campaigners say the latest document from the court confirms that the prime minister misled MPs even after it was ruled that the government had broken the law.

The Good Law Project, which brought the legal challenge, said in a statement: "Remarkably, the Judge’s Order is based on Government’s own figures – so at the same time as Johnson was falsely reassuring MPs, Government lawyers were preparing a statement contradicting him – revealing 100 contracts and dozens of Contract Award Notices were missing from the public record.

The campaigners added: “Government has not only misled Parliament and placed inaccurate information before the Court, it has misled the country.

“Unless contract details are published they cannot be properly scrutinised – there’s no way of knowing where taxpayers’ money is going and why. Billions have been spent with those linked to the Conservative Party and vast sums wasted on PPE that isn’t fit for purpose.

“We have a Government, and a Prime Minister, contemptuous of transparency and apparently allergic to accountability. The very least that the public deserves now is the truth.”

Time for a parliamentary inquiry.
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