Boris Johnson told entrepreneur James Dyson he would ‘fix’ tax issue

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Boris Johnson Told Entrepreneur James Dyson He Would ‘Fix’ Tax Issue Boris Johnson Told Entrepreneur James Dyson He Would ‘Fix’ Tax Issue
James Dyson is said to have lobbied Boris Johnson through text messages. Photo: PA Media
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By Gavin Cordon, PA Whitehall Editor

British prime minister Boris Johnson personally promised James Dyson he would “fix” an issue over the tax status of his employees after he was directly lobbied by the entrepreneur, it has been reported.

The BBC said it has seen a series of text messages between the two men after Mr Dyson was unable to get the assurances he was seeking from the UK's finance ministry.

The exchanges took place in March last year at the start of the pandemic when the UK government was appealing to firms to supply ventilators amid fears the health service could run out.

The British government said it was right to secure equipment for the health service in “extraordinary times” while Mr Dyson said it was “absurd to suggest that his firm was doing anything other than seeking to comply with Treasury rules”.

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The main opposition party, Labour, described the disclosures as “jaw-dropping” and said Mr Johnson must now agree to a full, independent inquiry into lobbying.

'We need you'

Mr Dyson, whose firm is now based in Singapore, wrote to the UK Treasury asking for an assurance that his staff would not have to pay additional tax if they came to the UK to work on the project.

However, when he failed to receive a reply, the BBC said he took up the matter directly with the prime minister.

He said in a text that the firm was ready but that “sadly” it seemed no-one wanted them to proceed.

Mr Johnson replied: “I will fix it tomo! We need you. It looks fantastic.”

The prime minister then texted him again saying: “[Chancellor] Rishi [Sunak] says it is fixed!! We need you here.”

When Mr Dyson then sought a further assurance, Mr Johnson replied: “James, I am First Lord of the Treasury and you can take it that we are backing you to do what you need.”

Two weeks later, Mr Sunak told a parliamentary committee that the tax status of people who came to the UK to provide specific help during the pandemic would not be affected.

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A government spokesman said it was right to take action in “extraordinary times” to ensure Britain's health service had the equipment it needed.

“At the height of the pandemic, there were genuine fears that we would quickly run out of ventilators, leaving the NHS unable to treat patients and putting many lives at risk,” the spokesman said.

“As the public would expect, we did everything we could in extraordinary times to protect our citizens and get access to the right medical equipment.”

Mr Dyson said he was “hugely proud” of his firm’s response in “the midst of a national emergency”, and that he would “do the same again if asked”.

He told the BBC: “When the prime minister rang me to ask Dyson to urgently build ventilators, of course I said yes.

Dyson’s CoVent ventilator on a hospital bed. Photo: Dyson/PA

“Our ventilator cost Dyson £20 million, freely given to the national cause, and it is absurd to suggest that the urgent correspondence was anything other than seeking compliance with rules, as 450 Dyson people – in UK and Singapore – worked around the clock, seven days a week to build potentially life-saving equipment at a time of dire need.

“Mercifully, they were not required as medical understanding of the virus evolved. Neither Weybourne (Dyson’s holding company) nor Dyson received any benefit from the project; indeed commercial projects were delayed, and Dyson voluntarily covered the £20 million of development costs.”

Mr Dyson also said his company had not claimed “one penny” from governments in any jurisdiction in relation to Covid.

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