Labour has demanded an urgent investigation into the prime minister’s conduct, after it was revealed he had promised the entrepreneur he would “fix” a tax issue for the billionaire.
Johnson exchanged text messages with billionaire Dyson, as the businessmen sought assurances in exchange for his firm producing ventilators.
The PM has promised to publish all his text messages with Dyson.
According to The Times, Johnson also rejected the cabinet secretary’s advice to change his phone number because of concerns over the ease with which lobbyists and others from the business world were able to contact him.
Speaking in the Commons on Thursday, Rees-Mogg defended the government’s procurement processes and suggested there would have been “dither and delay” had Labour been in charge of it.
Dyson, in fact, never supplied any ventilators to the NHS.
But Rees-Mogg told MPs: “What the prime minister did was to ensure that things happened. Now, this is the dither and delay of the socialists: they don’t want to do things. They want to put the process ahead of succeeding.
“It’s not, as used to be the socialist mantra, that the ends justify the means, it’s that the means justify the ends.
“So had the ends been no ventilators but they’d followed some endless bureaucratic process that would have taken six months, the socialists would be happy, but instead we got on and did it.”
The BBC reported on Wednesday a series of text messages between Johnson and Dyson exchanged in March last year after the businessman was unable to get the assurances he was seeking from the Treasury.
Dyson, who moved his business to Singapore in 2019 after campaigning for Brexit, wrote to the Treasury requesting that his staff not have to pay additional tax if they came to the UK to work on the ventilator project.
But when he failed to receive a reply, Dyson reportedly took up the matter directly with the PM.
He said in a text that the firm was ready but that “sadly” it seemed no-one wanted them to proceed.
Johnson replied: “I will fix it tomo! We need you. It looks fantastic.”
The prime minister then texted him again saying: “[Chancellor] Rishi [Sunak] says it is fixed!! We need you here.”
Two weeks later, Sunak told the Commons Treasury Committee that the tax status of people who came to the UK to provide specific help during the pandemic would not be affected.
Labour leader Keir Starmer suggested it was “one rule for those that have got the prime minister’s phone number, another for everybody else”.
Starmer compared the way Johnson responded to Dyson’s concerns with the government’s treatment of steelworkers, nurses and three million self-employed people who have been left out of coronavirus support schemes.
Nurses “didn’t get a text from the prime minister – they got a kick in the teeth” with a below-inflation NHS pay rise, Starmer said during PMQs.