A business partner of Jacob Rees-Mogg has been handed a senior position at the Department for International Trade.
Dominic Johnson, CEO of Somerset Capital Management – which was co-founded by Rees-Mogg – is joining DIT’s non-executive board and will chair the Audit and Risk Assurance Committee, Byline Times revealed.
Joining Johnson – himself a former vice-chair of the Conservative Party – on the board is Douglas Carswell, the ex-Tory MP who defected to UKIP and went on to serve as founding director of Vote Leave.
‘Vast experience and expertise’
Somerset Capital Management is an investment firm specialising in emerging markets. It reportedly controls £7 billion in assets – and was established with the financial support of pro-Brexit hedgefunder Crispin Odey.
Rees-Mogg reportedly still boasts a 14 per cent stake in the company, held in a blind trust.
“These appointments bring vast experience and expertise to the department at a critical time for the UK as a trading nation,” Liz Truss, the international trade secretary, said in a press release.
“[They are] high quality appointments who believe fiercely in rules-based free trade. They will play a big role in re-establishing the UK as a major force in global trade, and will help take our trade agenda to the next level in 2021 and beyond.”
As accusations of a ‘chumocracy’ at the heart of Westminster mount up, the government has refused to disclose which firms have been awarded multimillion-pound coronavirus contracts through a VIP “high-priority lane” for companies with political connections.
The National Audit Office (NAO) found last month that suppliers with links to Tory politicians were ten times more likely to be awarded contracts than those who applied to the Department of Health and Social Care.
The “high-priority lane” was open for companies referred by government officials, ministers, MPs and peers – sources “considered to be more credible”, the report said.
Roughly one-in-ten suppliers processed through the VIP channel – 47 out of 493 – obtained lucrative PPE contracts, compared to less than one-in-a-hundred suppliers that came through the ordinary lane.
This week Lord Bethell, a DHSC minister, was asked in the House of Lords by Lib Dem peer Lord Strasburger if the government planned to publish “a list of all companies who were contracted to supply PPE as a result of the high-priority lane”.
But, Lord Bethell, replied: “We do not intend to publish the list of suppliers who were awarded personal protective equipment contracts after having had their offers reviewed with more urgency, as there may be associated commercial implications.”
Speaking to the Guardian, Lord Strasburger said the government’s “excuse” for “dodging my question just doesn’t hold water”.
“There is no possible risk to commercial confidentiality in disclosing the names of the fast-tracked companies and who it was that put in a good word for them so they could jump the queue,” he said.
“It looks to me as if the government doesn’t want taxpayers to know which companies were given preferential treatment, often at the expense of more proven competitors.
“They also don’t want us to know which minister or MP was able to slip these companies into the fast lane and what their connection is with the company.
“This completely unnecessary secrecy makes everyone wonder what they are hiding,” he added. “There must be a full independent inquiry into how these massive contracts were given out, and whether there was any corruption or cronyism.”