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Thursday, April 22, 2021

Yet another Boris Johnson text scandal?

Tony Blair understood it perfectly, and Boris Johnson is not much different, the successful exercise of power requires, knowledge, the ability to use that knowledge and access, but even Blair stopped short of giving his mobile phone number out to all and sundry, or at least there is no evidence that points to the contrary.

According to the Guardian, Boris Johnson is regularly texted by business leaders and politicians, though a loophole in the ministerial code means only meetings and not text messages need to be disclosed. However, texts to the prime minister concerning government business are covered under freedom of information legislation..

The paper says that sources have described internal Downing Street concerns after the prime minister was revealed to have texted the pro-Brexit billionaire Sir James Dyson last year, promising that his staff would not have to pay extra tax if they came to the UK to make ventilators during the pandemic. “I will fix it tomo! We need you. It looks fantastic,” Johnson wrote:

There is also growing concern inside Whitehall that “government by WhatsApp” and text message is no longer sustainable, and some of the seven inquiries newly commissioned into lobbying are likely to recommend change.

At prime minister’s questions, a defiant Johnson said he would publish his text messages and “make absolutely no apology” for the exchanges, which were revealed by the BBC. The SNP leader, Ian Blackford, said Johnson must “publish all personal exchanges on these contracts before the end of the day”.

Johnson said: “There’s absolutely nothing to conceal about this and I am happy to share all the details with the House, as indeed I have shared them with my officials, immediately.” No 10 could not commit to when the disclosures would happen.

There is concern that the prime minister has distributed his number liberally in the past and was regularly contacted by businesses leaders, politicians and other individuals. “He is constantly lobbied by phone,” a Tory source said. “He may be running everything past private office but it could become a big issue.”

One adviser said the PM had brought up in meetings that he had been texted by individuals offering advice on policy issues.

Johnson is reported to have been texted by the Saudi leader, Mohammed bin Salman, over the proposed takeover of Newcastle United football club. He also reportedly joined the ultra-secure messaging service Signal.

The main problems here are transparency and accountability. As Hannah White, the deputy director at the Institute for Government, says: “Ministers need to tread an incredibly fine line when deciding whether a text exchange with an acquaintance has crossed the line into lobbying and so should be declared ... In case of any doubt they would be well advised to treat texts as formal communications.”

There needs to be clear and very firm rules put in place governing this particular form of access.
Did Dysons ventilators actually appear?
In the 'emergency procurements' I understand companies that had expertise in their production,not Tory donors, were ignored.
Nigel: no, the project was abandoned. Guardian report here.
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