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Roger Winterbottom
Features Writer
@ketonecop
1:05 AM 20th December 2023
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Opinion

Magic Mone Tree

 
Cartoon: Richard Trinder
Cartoon: Richard Trinder
Former Conservative peer, Baroness Mone, posted a picture of herself on Instagram in 2021 standing on a yacht named the ‘Lady M’. “Business isn’t easy. But it is rewarding,” she commented.

Fast forward to the present day: “It’s not my yacht. It’s not my money,” she said in an interview with Laura Kuenssberg. Mm-hm. It’s so hard to know what’s true, isn’t it?

For anyone who’s missed the background: during the pandemic, Mone lobbied for government PPE contracts on behalf of a newly formed company, PPE Medpro, with the company subsequently securing two contracts collectively worth over £200m. All surgical gowns supplied under a contract worth £122m were rejected as not fit for purpose. It later appeared that Mone and her husband, Doug Barrowman, were closely involved with PPE Medpro, though Mone’s lawyers said this suggestion was “inaccurate”, “misleading” and “defamatory” and threatened to sue journalists for saying it. Leaked documents later suggested that Barrowman had been paid £65m from PPE Medpro’s profits, with £29m going to an offshore trust, the beneficiaries of which were Mone and her children.

Mone finally admitted in November 2023 that she was involved in the company, and in December admitted that she had lied to the press about it. She defended herself by saying that lying is “not a crime”. True, but fraud and bribery are, and Mone is under investigation for those by the National Crime Agency. Also, according to Tax Lawyer Dan Neidle, lying to Companies House about company ownership is also a criminal offence. I don’t know, you can’t rely on anyone to look the other way nowadays.

Mone has justified her lies by saying that she was “protecting” her children, who are all grown adults in their 20s and 30s. Sadly, it appears this protection was about as effective as that offered by the duff PPE her company supplied. I can’t help wondering what she thought she was protecting them from. It’s not as if she was profiteering at public expense from her connections in government at a time of national crisis. Oh, wait.

It takes a special sort of person to look at the unfolding disaster of Covid and think – “You know what? I could cream off a load of public money from this.” ‘Business isn’t easy’? Yeah, right. Skimming off 30% from a juicy contract for doing eff all sounds pretty easy, all things considered. Who said there was no Magic Mone(y) Tree?

Mone now says that “everyone in government” knew that she was involved – despite her repeated false public denials – and that she was being made a “scapegoat” for government failings in procurement. Indeed. But I’m not sure that arguing “I helped myself to government cash because loads of other people were doing so and no one stopped me” is quite the defence she thinks it is.

She does have a point though. The government awarded over £200m to a company that didn’t yet exist to provide things it didn’t make, which was based in a tax haven, and whose ultimate ownership was a secret. That all sounds perfectly normal, doesn’t it?

I can’t help but remember that previous government contract – the one to supply ferries, signed with a company that didn’t have any and who used the terms and conditions from a pizza delivery company. Still, lessons learned, eh?

The government was quick to offer its condemnation. Oh, who am I trying to kid? Of course it didn’t. “The government takes these things incredibly seriously,” fibbed the prime minister. “But it is also subject to on ongoing investigation. And because of that, there’s not much further that I can add.” It’s funny that Sunak can’t comment due to the criminal investigation, but it apparently hasn’t stopped Mone making a documentary about it, and being interviewed on TV by Kuenssberg. Legal aid must be a lot more generous than it used to be. Of course not – PPE Medpro funded it all.

I’m just surprised Sunak recalls anything about it at all, given his recent memory lapses. He’s probably forgotten he was Chancellor at the time all the billions of pounds were wasted on dodgy contracts for anyone who had a mate in the government.

Let’s hope that – unlike Sunak – Mone has kept her documentary evidence and didn’t forget to backup her WhatsApps. Otherwise it’s just the word of one self-confessed liar against that of a bunch of other liars.

Like Sunak and Boris Johnson, Lord Bethell was another minister who mysteriously couldn’t access his WhatsApps when requested by the Good Law Project over another dodgy procurement case. Ah, I remember simpler, happier times, when you could just drop your phone in the North Sea instead of pretending not to back it up. Happily, in response to Mone’s recent media statements, Bethell has recently managed to find a message from the time, posting a screenshot of a WhatsApp message from 2020. Is lying in response to a legal request a crime? I do hope so.

Mone’s real mistake was not to have gone to the right public school, otherwise the government would be closing ranks around her. But perhaps some good may still come from the whole sordid affair – it may shine more light on the miserable incompetence and corruption of this wretched government and hasten its inevitable demise.