Matt Hancock intervened to help a former Tory minister secure a lucrative PPE contract worth £180 million, leaked government emails have revealed.
The health secretary personally assisted Brooks Newmark – the former civil society minister who resigned after sending sexually explicit photographs of himself to an undercover journalist he thought was a female party activist.
Last May, in the midst of the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, the 63-year-old Newmark teamed up with the founder of a dog food company which had set up a firm to broker PPE deals for international suppliers.
His subsequent lobbying helped a Hong Kong business become the eighth-biggest recipient of PPE contracts during the pandemic, the National Audit Office found. Zoe Ley – the dog food entrepreneur – was reported by the BBC to have personally earned up to £1 million.
Newmark’s first email to Hancock came on 27 May, almost two months after the peak of the first wave; in it, he disclosed that he had “chatted with your spad [special adviser] . . . He will be circulating this idea to you, Michael [Gove] and Liz [Truss].”
#marr – Was it appropriate for the former minister, Brooks Newmark, to lobby you for a contract worth hundreds of millions of pounds?— Haggis_UK ?? ?? (@Haggis_UK) May 16, 2021
Matt Hancock – Yes, it was absolutely appropriate… #Marr – it just looks like you get preferential treatment..#Ridge pic.twitter.com/fa3qrMOat5
The former Braintree MP then attached a detailed proposal explaining that he had links to a “well connected and powerful” person in China – but needed government help to expedite deals.
Hancock replied within hours. According to emails disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act – published in The Sunday Times – he said: “Thanks. Definitely one for the PPE team who are firing on all cylinders now.”
In response Newmark said: “Can someone internally please lead the charge in trying to seriously explore this option. I have said all along I can help but I need yours and [Gove’s] support to help make this happen for the Govt.”
The aide forwarded the proposal to Lord Deighton, the government’s PPE tsar. On 28 May, the aide wrote: “Please see below from former MP Brooks Newmark . . . an excellent PPE proposal that the health secretary and I would be very grateful if Lord Deighton could look into urgently.” Hancock was blind-copied into the email.
On 1 June, the Department of Health awarded a £178 million contract for protective goggles to the firm – using emergency procurement rules to avoid a tender.
Jolyon Maugham, director of the Good Law Project, which is suing the government over its awarding of PPE contracts, said the “scandalous” revelations revealed “VIP access to ministers”.
A government spokesman said its priority had “always been saving lives”. He said: “Decisions on whether to award contracts for PPE are taken by officials.”