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Tory minister quits in broadside at £4.3bn UK Government Covid fraud failure

A Conservative minister dramatically resigned from the government as he condemned “arrogance, indolence and ignorance” over business loans lost to fraudsters.

Lord Agnew shocked peers by announcing his resignation at the dispatch box in a six-minute skewering of the government “machine”.

He was addressing questions about £4.3 billion of Covid loans – written off by the Treasury – which the SNP and Labour said has gone to “fraudsters”.

The cash was from a wider £5.8bn stolen from emergency Covid-19 schemes including furlough, the self-employed income support programme and Eat Out to Help Out.

‘Schoolboy errors’

Speaking as a Treasury minister, he admitted: “Given that I am the minister for counter-fraud, it would be somewhat dishonest to stay on in that role if I am incapable of doing it properly.”

Lord Agnew told peers “schoolboy errors” had been made.

He described “woeful” oversight by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the British Business Bank.

And he claimed the Treasury appeared to have “no knowledge or little interest” in the consequences of fraud.

A combination of arrogance, indolence and ignorance freezes the Government machine.

– Lord Agnew

Lord Agnew said his decision had nothing to do with the numerous other scandals engulfing Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

He said a penny could be cut from income tax if government “just woke up”.

The peer added: “Total fraud loss across Government is estimated at £29 billion a year.

“Of course not all can be stopped but a combination of arrogance, indolence and ignorance freezes the Government machine.”

Lord Agnew told peers that early estimates of fraudulent Covid loan claims was likely to be 26% of the total paid out so far.

Covid fraud cost the country billions.

Snapping shut a heavily bookmarked folder as he concluded, the peer remarked: “Thank you, and goodbye”.

Responding, Labour leader in the Lords Baroness Smith of Basildon said: “I think we have just witnessed one of the most dramatic moments we have ever seen in the House from a minister who felt his integrity could no longer ensure he remained a member of the Government.”

‘Dire reality’

Alison Thewliss, the SNP’s Treasury spokeswoman, said: “The dire reality is that the Tory government has cut crucial Universal Credit for struggling households and still refuses to deliver meaningful support to tackle the cost of living crisis. This money could have gone a long way to supporting people who need it the most.

“It speaks volumes of the Tory government’s priorities that while ordinary people are being pushed into hardship and poverty, it lets people who have stolen public funds off the hook.”

Downing Street insisted the Government had been clear fraud was “unacceptable”.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We introduced our unprecedented Covid support schemes at speed to protect jobs and livelihoods, helping millions of people across the UK, including nearly 12 million on the furlough scheme alone.

“We’ve always been clear fraud is unacceptable and are taking action against those abusing the system, with 150,000 ineligible claims blocked, £500 million recovered last year and the HMRC tax protection taskforce is expected to recover an additional £1 billion of taxpayers’ money.”

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