During an exchange at Prime Minister’s Questions last week, Boris Johnson promised to publish “all the details” of his conversations about procuring ventilators with the entrepreneur Sir James Dyson. He also later confirmed to a journalist that the communications would be published.
At Prime Minister’s Questions this week, however, he rephrased the promise in different terms and claimed to have fulfilled it. At the time of writing, he has not published the full details or all his communications.
What did Boris Johnson say?
On 21 April, the Scottish National Party’s leader in the Commons, Ian Blackford MP, asked the Prime Minister whether he would publish “all personal exchanges” about Covid-19 contracts in which he had been involved.
This was a reference to a series of texts between Mr Johnson and Sir James, which had been published by the BBC earlier that day. In these texts, the Prime Minister promised to address an aspect of the tax system, which Sir James was concerned might affect some Dyson staff who worked on the ventilator project.
In response to Mr Blackford’s question, Mr Johnson said: “There is absolutely nothing to conceal about this, and I am happy to share all the details with the House, as indeed I’ve shared them with my officials, immediately.”
Two days later, on 23 April, Mr Johnson was again asked by a journalist: “Are you going to publish your communications as you said you would, with James Dyson?” To this, the Prime Minister said: “Indeed. I think that’s happening today.”
Number 10 did publish a statement on the matter that day. However, it did not include “all the details” or any actual messages, as the Prime Minister had said it would.
Regarding the texts, the statement says: “In late March, following on from the letter to the Treasury, Sir James Dyson and the Prime Minister exchanged text messages about the clarification of tax positions for Dyson employees based internationally, should their work to support the Ventilator Challenge require them to be reassigned to work in [the] UK. The exchange on this issue is in the public domain.”
The text messages already published by the BBC appear to begin in the middle of a conversation, which may suggest that some of the conversation has not been published. Sir James says that Mr Johnson also called on 13 March, but the statement from Number 10 does not mention this conversation specifically or include any details of it.
On 28 April, the Labour MP Christian Matheson said that Mr Johnson had not honoured his promise to publish the texts, and asked him when he would.
Mr Johnson replied: “I promised to publish the account of my dealings with James Dyson, which is exactly what I have done.”
In fact, this is not the promise that the prime minister originally made.
We have asked Number 10 whether any more texts exist, and whether they will be published.
In an article in the Telegraph on 27 April, Sir James said: “It was entirely the right thing for the Prime Minister to contact me directly.” Mr Johnson has also said that his conversation with Sir James was justified. “At a time of a national pandemic,” he said it was “completely the right thing to do”
If a politician promises to publish something, they should do so.
Transparency should not rely on texts that were already leaked to the press.