Owen Paterson: WhatsApp messages from disgraced former Tory MP to Matt Hancock reveal extent of lobbying | Political news
WhatsApp messages between disgraced former Tory MP Owen Paterson and then-Health Secretary Matt Hancock revealed how he was lobbying on behalf of a company that paid him more than £8,000 per month.
Mr Paterson resigned from the House of Commons in November last year after being found guilty of breaking lobbying rules while working as a consultant for healthcare company Randox.
Before stepping down, Boris Johnson asked Tory MPs to reject the standards committee’s suggestion to suspend Mr Paterson – only until then make a U-turnsparking a wider scandal in Westminster.
It also led to a by-election in North Shropshire, that the conservatives lost to the liberal democrats.
More: MPs give up second job worth £250,000 a year following Westminster sleaze row
Randox was paying Mr Paterson, who has been MP for North Shropshire since 1997, £8,333 a month for 16 hours of work, according to the Register of Financial Interests.
On Friday the government released documents, forced by Labor, showing how Mr Paterson was pushing the then health secretary over offers from Randox to provide COVID tests.
Almost £600m of COVID testing contracts have been awarded to Randox, with normal competition rules being ignored due to the emergency.
Mr Paterson started pushing Randox testing in January 2020
WhatsApp messages show Mr Paterson gave Mr. Hancock Contact details for Randox boss Dr Peter Fitzgerald on 26 January 2020 – two months before the UK’s first lockdown.
Mr Paterson said he told Mr Fitzgerald to ‘wait for an email’ from the Health Secretary, who contacted the Randox boss that night.
Mr Hancock then told Mr Paterson on February 5, 2020 that Public Health England (PHE) would be in “direct” contact with Mr Fitzgerald.
On February 25, Mr Paterson contacted Mr Hancock again, saying that Randox had not been contacted by the government for 19 days, when its test kits had been sent to “China, Mexico, Ukraine, Oman, Tunisia and Guatemala”.
He added: “PHE’s attitude seems incomprehensible given current developments. Are you voting today? Can we chat briefly? Big announcement on pharmacies elsewhere!”
More: Commons Speaker calls for barring access to Parliament for former MPs who become lobbyists
‘Owen Patz’ worries about lack of urgency
Mr Paterson then told Mr Hancock there was ‘absolutely no sense of urgency’.
He added: “Infuriating! Nb I’m a consultant at Randox. PS Good news for nurses!”
Passing on Mr Paterson’s messages to officials, Mr Hancock called him ‘Owen Patz’ and asked for ‘a chapter and a verse’ on the situation, saying he was ‘very worried about it’.
“If we treat other companies like this, we fail,” the then health secretary added.
In subsequent messages, ahead of a meeting, a senior official in the office of then-Health Minister Lord Bethell said on May 11, 2020: “Lord Bethell has indicated he would like a 1:1 with Owen Patterson [sic] beforehand as well (which I understand to be a consultant employed by Randox). »
Mr Paterson calls for Randox to be reconsidered
In July 2020, it was discovered that some Randox kits may not meet safety standards, and an email read: “PM is concerned about swabs and number of swabs found to be non-sterile during testing.”
But in September 2020, Mr Paterson sent a WhatsApp message asking Mr Hancock to ‘even briefly and privately revisit’ the long-term future of Randox’s involvement in testing, as he had visited the business in Northern Ireland for the first time and was impressed.
He added that there was “widespread exasperation that Randox’s achievements have not been promoted”.
In October 2020, Mr Paterson complained that an article in The Guardian said the government “only gave Randox the testing contract because I am a paid consultant”.
He asked Mr Hancock: ‘If this happens can you kill him once and for all, because I know absolutely nothing about contact?’
Mr Hancock replied: “Of course.”
The fact that Lord Agnew, who suddenly resigned last month as minister responsible for COVID fraud, Mr Hancock warned that the government was “paying considerably more than the odds” for Randox’s tests.
‘Without a doubt’ Mr. Paterson guilty
Labor deputy leader Angela Rayner said: ‘There is no longer any doubt that Owen Paterson was guilty of the charges and the Prime Minister intervened personally to protect him regardless. No wonder government standards have crumbled .”
She said the documents had “destroyed months of denial”.
A Randox spokesperson said: “It is clear from these documents that the company has provided an essential and essential part of the UK’s testing capacity.
“Randox remains proud of its performance and delivery of COVID-19 testing throughout the pandemic. To date, Randox has reported nearly 24 million PCR results and has played a key role in both keeping people safe and maintaining vital national infrastructure.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the government had taken ‘every possible step to rapidly build the biggest testing industry in UK history from scratch’ which has saved lives , with Randox’s service “forming an integral part of this response”.
“Robust rules and processes are in place to ensure that all contracts are awarded in accordance with procurement regulations and transparency guidelines and that any potential conflict of interest regarding commercial matters is appropriately managed”, he added.
“Ministers are not involved in the contract appraisal and evaluation process.”