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May 18, 2021

The Telegraph

Penny Mordaunt rejects Labour's call for inquiry into lobbying and  procurement during the Covid pandemic

Penny Mordaunt dismissed opposition calls for a judge-led review into the Covid lobbying row on Tuesday, as she insisted the public did not accept Labour’s “line of attack” on alleged Government cronyism. The Cabinet Office minister countered demands for a new inquiry into lobbying, procurement and conflicts of interest during the pandemic, pointing to the series of probes already taking place. “I don’t think we need any more reviews,” she said, hitting back at opposition MPs’ allegations against the Government as “speculation, innuendo and smear”. Her intervention came in response to an Urgent Question tabled by Angela Rayner, who made her debut as the Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in the chamber. Questioning the delay to the publication of the register of ministerial interests, which was due out last December, the Labour frontbencher accused ministers of acting “like rules are for other people”. She made claims against Boris Johnson, Home Secretary Priti Patel and Health Secretary Matt Hancock. Adopting a strident tone in the Commons showdown, as she was loudly cheered by Tory backbenchers, Ms Mordaunt said the public take an interest in standards in public life, but view criticisms raised in the Commons during the urgent question “as a load of flannel". She added that Labour was accusing Tory ministers of entering politics for their personal gain, but concluded: “It’s not getting traction with the public because it is not plausible.” SNP MP Joanna Cherry raised the request for a judge-led inquiry into lobbying, procurement and ministerial and civil service "conflicts" during the pandemic. It should have the power to order the production of evidence and to take evidence on oath, she added. Ms Mordaunt responded: “My personal view is I don't think we need any more reviews. We have the Committee on Standards, we have the House authorities, we have the Boardman review, we have all these pieces of work looking at all of the issues that MPs have raised this afternoon.” Earlier, Ms Rayner said: “The ministerial code is clear there must be ‘no misuse of taxpayer money’ nor ‘actual or perceived conflicts of interest’. “But time and again ministers act like rules are for other people. None more so than the Prime Minister himself. “Last year, he declared £15,000 from a Tory donor for his sleazy jet trip to a private island. This weekend, we read that the real cost was double that and paid by someone else entirely. "People may ask why this is important. It is important because it goes to the very heart of our democracy.”