Concerns over the “texts for contracts” lobbying scandal that has involved a number of senior UK Government figures “cannot be allowed to continue”, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has said.
A number of parliamentary and independent investigations have been set up after communications between chancellor Rishi Sunak and former prime minister David Cameron about Greensill Capital came to light.
The chancellor said in a text to Mr Cameron that he had “pushed” Treasury officials to consider proposals that could save the firm, which eventually collapsed.
Boris Johnson was also accused of approving “tax breaks by text” after he told billionaire inventor Sir James Dyson that the chancellor would “fix” a tax issue for his staff working on making ventilators in the early part of the pandemic.
Transparent and open
Speaking at a media briefing while out campaigning in Fife on Friday, Mr Ross said he believes governments should operate in “the most transparent and open way”.
Asked by us whether he would allow a government he led to operate in a similar fashion to Mr Johnson’s, he said: “The serious concerns that have been raised just in the last few weeks cannot be allowed to continue.
“That’s both at a UK level or for any devolved administration in the United Kingdom as well.”
Mr Ross, a former Scotland Office minister who resigned from that role last year over the lockdown rules breach by Mr Johnson’s then-chief adviser Dominic Cummings, said he is “almost certain” he was never lobbied by text during his time in government.
“I never received a text message directly from a business leader,” he said.
“I would say, to the best of my knowledge, I can’t remember every single text message I received, but I would be almost certain that I never received a direct message, certainly not asking me to do anything – maybe just to set up a meeting that would be with officials.”
He added he was trying to be “categorical” in his denial, but could not be fully sure such communications never occurred.
A matter of priority
As the UK Government comes under increasing scrutiny in Westminster over lobbying, Mr Ross was asked whether he fears the issue could impact on the Tories’ chances in the Scottish Parliament election next month.
“I think people can see this issue is being dealt with as a matter of priority with a huge amount of seriousness attached to it,” he said.
“But it’s also right that we wait for these investigations to return their reports because they will all be looking at this issue in the round, but from separate different angles, and I think it’s right that we see the conclusions of those inquiries.”
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford wrote to cabinet secretary Simon Case on Friday, urging officials to “immediately secure and publish Boris Johnson’s correspondence on Covid contracts”.
Mr Johnson gave a commitment to publish his private correspondence in response to Mr Blackford at Prime Ministers Questions on Wednesday but has so far failed to do so.
Mr Blackford, whose own party has faced questions over undeclared dinners with businessmen at the centre of the lobbying scandal in 2017, said there is a “strong stench of sleaze surrounding Boris Johnson’s government”.
“The public deserve transparency and accountability, which can only be achieved through a full independent public inquiry into these accusations of privileged access, impropriety and possible illegality,” he said.
“The prime minister and most senior members of the Tory government are implicated in this scandal, which has seen Tory donors and friends handed contracts, special access, tax breaks and peerages, at a cost to the public purse of at least millions – if not billions – of pounds.
“It absolutely stinks and it is eroding public trust in the UK Government.”