Tory peer Michelle Mone is to take a leave of absence from the Lords “to clear her name”, amid allegations she benefitted from a company she recommended for a Covid contract.
It means she will not attend sittings of the House, vote on any proceedings or be able to claim any allowance.
Baroness Mone has been linked to PPE Medpro, which won government contracts during the pandemic.
Her spokesman said the allegations had been “unjustly levelled against her”.
He said the leave of absence was “with immediate effect” and was Baroness Mone’s decision.
A leave of absence removes her from public financial scrutiny. It means she does not have to register any changes to her financial interests, although her request for a leave of absence could be refused by the Lords authorities.
A House of Lords spokesman said a decision would be made once a formal request had been received.
Downing Street would not comment on Baroness Mone’s decision because of an ongoing mediation process between PPE Medpro and the Department of Health.
Between May and June 2020, PPE Medpro was awarded two government contracts worth £203m to supply masks and medical gowns.
Unusually, the company was only a few weeks old when it signed the first of these agreements.
Glasgow-born businesswoman Baroness Mone, who joined the House of Lords in 2015, is being investigated by the Lords commissioner for standards over her “alleged involvement” in procuring contracts for the company.
In January 2022 The House of Lords commissioner for standards launched an investigation into the Conservative peer Michelle Mone, relating to the PPE company awarded £203m government contracts via the “VIP lane” after she referred it to the Cabinet Office in May 2020.
The investigation follows a complaint by the Labour peer George Foulkes on 6 January, after the Guardian reported that leaked files appear to suggest Lady Mone and her husband, the Isle of Man-based financier Douglas Barrowman, were secretly involved in the company, PPE Medpro.
Foulkes asked the commissioners to investigate whether Mone may have breached the Lords code of conduct by failing to declare an interest in the company, and by lobbying for it to be awarded government contracts.
The commissioner confirmed that the investigation would be for “alleged involvement in procuring contracts for PPE Medpro, leading to potential breaches” of three provisions of the Lords code, which cover the requirement that peers publicly register “all relevant interests”, and prohibit them from lobbying for a company or a person in which a peer “has a financial interest”.
PPE Medpro said at the time that it had delivered 100% of the contract to the terms specified and that it had supplied equipment “fully in accordance with the agreed contract, which included clear terms as to technical specification and performance criteria of the products”.
Baroness Mone has not voted in the Lords since April and has not spoken in a debate since March 2020.
However, the commissioner says he is unable to finalise or publish his report because “the matter is under investigation by the police or another agency as part of a criminal investigation”.
Properties linked to the company were searched by the National Crime Agency earlier this year.
Emails released under Freedom of Information laws show Baroness Mone referring the company to a government minister during the pandemic.
Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was “too weak” to remove the whip from Baroness Mone – which would mean she was expelled from the parliamentary party – and had left her “to finally read the writing on the wall”.
Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper also called for Mr Sunak to suspend the whip from Baroness Mone, adding: “This is more proof if any were needed that Sunak’s pledge of integrity has been reduced to dust.”
A No 10 spokesman said it was a matter for the whips whether she should be expelled from the parliamentary Conservative party.
In other news… The Great Covid Robbery
Major Covid fraud taskforce is being shut down – despite £3.4billion in lost money HM Revenue and Customs has said it will close its dedicated taskforce for getting back wrongly-paid-out Covid cash – even though £3.4billion in fraud and mistakes is still outstanding.
HM Revenue and Customs says its specialist team of 1,250 officials, who are working to get back taxpayer cash, will begin winding down in March.
It comes as HMRC has almost halved the amount of money it expects to recover from a goal of £2billion to £1.1billion.
An estimated £4.5billion was lost to fraud and error from the furlough scheme, a similar scheme for the self-employed and Eat Out To Help Out.
The National Audit Office has warned that “straightforward measures” to tackle fraud were not introduced until months after the Covid business support schemes were launched.
When Mr Sunak was chancellor, Lord Agnew quit as a Treasury minister over the government’s “desperately inadequate” efforts to stop taxpayers’ money being stolen and blasted the “school boy errors”.
In the Tory leadership race in the summer, Kemi Badenoch raised Mr Sunak’s record on fraud in the ITV debate.
“When we both worked in the Treasury, myself and other ministers raised the issue of Covid loan fraud and you dismissed us,” she told him. “Why didn’t you take us seriously?”
The HMRC said: “We certainly will not be stopping doing compliance work on Covid error and fraud. We will continue doing that, although the dedicated taskforce will no longer be organised in that way. We will continue picking up those risks as part of our business-as-usual compliance work.”
This money was public money squandered, wasted and stolen, arrests should be made and prison cells filled.