Matt Hancock has insisted it was “perfectly reasonable” to help a Tory ex-minister secure a £180million PPE contract.
The Health Secretary defended passing on emails to officials handling procurement from Brooks Newmark, who resigned as a minister in 2014 after the Sunday Mirror reported he had sent sexually explicit photographs of himself.
An aide to Mr Hancock reportedly asked for the bid to be brought to the personal attention of the Government’s PPE tsar Lord Deighton, describing it as “excellent” and calling for it to be dealt with “urgently”.
Mr Newmark had teamed up with Zoe Ley, the owner of a dog food company who had set up a firm, Life Partners, to broker PPE deals for international suppliers, the Sunday Times reported.
Internal Government emails, obtained through freedom of information laws, show Mr Newmark told the Health Secretary on May 27 last year that he had “chatted with your spad [special adviser] . . . He will be circulating this idea to you, Michael [Gove] and Liz [Truss].”
The former Braintree MP included a detailed proposal explaining he had links to a “well connected and powerful” person in China but that he needed government help in accelerating deals, the newspaper added.
Mr Hancock replied: “Thanks. Definitely one for the PPE team who are firing on all cylinders now.”
The Department of Health reportedly awarded a £178 million contract for protective goggles to the firm on June 1.
Challenged over whether it was appropriate for Mr Newmark to lobby him, Mr Hancock told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “Yes it was absolutely appropriate for people to get in contact with anybody at the Department of Health when the country desperately needed PPE and I sent this contact straight on to the PPE team and they looked at it.
“I don’t have anything to do with the award of contracts.”
Asked if Mr Newmark received special treatment, Mr Hancock replied: “No, I just pinged it on.
Mr Hancock confirmed he “wanted it to be looked at”, adding: “By the way, 90 million goggles later, I’m glad that I did.
“I sent it, as you can see, and said this is one for the PPE team and that’s the right thing to do.”
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “It is a recurring theme of the pandemic that ministers have bent over backwards to help their donors, friends and supporters while other companies have had to beg to provide equipment that could help.
“Returning to normal after this crisis is over must not mean a return to Conservative cronyism, deals for mates, and one rule for them and another for the rest of us.”
Mr Newmark declined to comment. Sources close to him told the Sunday Times that he merely helped “chivvy along” an existing process.
Ms Ley told the paper she had only ever worked through formal channels.
It comes as Labour accused Priti Patel of a “flagrant breach” of the ministerial code by allegedly lobbying Michael Gove over a £20million PPE deal.
The party urged Cabinet secretary Simon Case to investigate the Home Secretary over alleged efforts to sway the award of a contract.
Documents, obtained by the Mail, show Ms Patel contacted Mr Gove last May over a PPE deal for the healthcare firm Pharmaceuticals Direct Ltd (PDL).
The contact for the firm was listed as Samir Jassal, who has stood as a Conservative candidate at two elections and has met both Boris Johnson and David Cameron.
Ms Patel said the firm “have committed stock and secured supply, exposing them to considerable financial risk and pressures”.
“The late stage in which the Government has decided not to use them has caused these problems,” Ms Patel wrote on May 3 last year.
“I would be most grateful fi (sic) you could review this matter urgently, ensure direct contact is made with this company over the stock they have secured, ascertain what contractual obligations the Government should meet and work with the company to distribute and supply these masks.”
Her efforts failed after Mr Hancock said the masks were “not suitable for use in the NHS”, according to disclosure in response to a pre-action letter by the Good Law Project.
But PDL was awarded a £102.7 million contract weeks later in July to provide a different type of mask.
A spokesman for Ms Patel: “The Home Secretary rightly followed up representations made to her about the vital supply of PPE.
“During a time of national crisis, failure to do so would have been a dereliction of duty.”
PDL has been contacted for comment.