UK PM Johnson says he makes no apology for tax assurances to James Dyson

Row about access to ministers deepened

  

LONDON- British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he would make no apology for giving tax assurances via text message to inventor James Dyson to secure ventilators for patients suffering with COVID-19, as a row about access to ministers deepened.

A series of cases have raised questions over whether former ministers, civil servants and some businessmen are granted easy access to the Conservative government. Opposition parties have accused the government of cronyism.

The government denies the charge and a spokesman for Johnson said the prime minister had not broken any rules as he had informed officials about the exchange promptly.

"I make absolutely no apology at all ... for shifting heaven and earth and doing everything I possibly could ... to secure ventilators for the people of this country and to save lives," Johnson told parliament after being asked by the opposition Labour Party about the texts.

The exchange of texts between Dyson and Johnson happened when the inventor tasked his engineers with making a ventilator to ease predicted shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dyson had asked the finance ministry for no change in tax status for his staff coming to Britain to work on the emergency project.

He also contacted Johnson directly, who replied: "I will fix it", the BBC reported on Wednesday.

Dyson's company, which in 2019 announced it was moving its headquarters from Britain to Singapore, developed a ventilator in 30 days.

However, in the end the machines were not needed in Britain, which had sufficient supplies.

Dyson said in May his company, known for its vacuum cleaners and fans, spent around 20 million pounds ($28 million) on the project and it would not be accepting any public money.

($1 = 0.7196 pounds)

(Reporting by Sarah Young, Paul Sandle and Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Kate Holton and Mark Potter) ((elizabeth.piper@thomsonreuters.com; 07979746994; Reuters Messaging: elizabeth.piper.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))

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