Sunday Scandal

Matt Hancock Helped Tory Secure £180m PPE Deal. Emails reveal how the health secretary assisted a disgraced former minister acting for a pet food entrepreneur. He personally intervened to help a former Conservative minister secure a PPE deal worth £180 million, according to government emails.

The health secretary assisted Brooks Newmark, the former civil society minister who resigned after sending sexually explicit photographs of himself to an undercover journalist he thought was a female party activist.

Last May, Newmark, 63, teamed up with the owner of a dog food company who had set up a firm to broker PPE deals for international suppliers. His subsequent lobbying helped a Hong Kong business become the eighth-biggest recipient of PPE contracts during the pandemic, according to the National Audit Office.

Zoe Ley, the dog food entrepreneur, runs a company making organic dog food that retails at about £5 a tin, was reported by BBC Panorama to have personally earned up to £1 million. Newmark does not deny being paid for his lobbying. The former Braintree MP’s first email to Hancock came on May 27, almost two months after the peak of the first wave. In it Newmark disclosed that he had “chatted with your spad [special adviser]. He will be circulating this idea to you, Michael [Gove] and Liz [Truss].”

Newmark then attached a detailed proposal explaining that he had links to a “well connected and powerful” person in China but needed government help in accelerating deals. Hancock wrote back within hours. According to emails disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act, he said: “Thanks. Definitely one for the PPE team who are firing on all cylinders now.”

In response Newmark said: “Can someone internally please lead the charge in trying to seriously explore this option. I have said all along I can help but I need yours and [Gove’s] support to help make this happen for the Govt.”

It was then that the aide forwarded the proposal to Lord Deighton, the government’s PPE tsar. On May 28 the aide wrote “Please see below from former MP Brooks Newmark an excellent PPE proposal that the health secretary and I would be very grateful if Lord Deighton could look into urgently”. Hancock was blind-copied into the email.

On June 1 the Department of Health directly awarded a £178 million contract for protective goggles to the firm, invoking emergency procurement rules to avoid a tender. The company that delivered the PPE was Worldlink Resources, a Hong Kong-based conglomerate. There is no allegation of wrongdoing on its behalf or that the company did not follow all lawful procedures in obtaining the contract.

Jolyon Maugham, director of the Good Law Project, which is suing the government over its awarding of PPE contracts, said the “scandalous” contract revealed “VIP access to ministers”.

Last night Ley said she had only ever worked through formal channels. Newmark declined to comment. Sources close to him said he merely helped “chivvy along” an existing process.

A government spokesman said its priority had “always been saving lives”. He said “Decisions on whether to award contracts for PPE are taken by officials.”

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