Boris Johnson has been accused of failing to honour a promise to parliament, after Downing Street released a statement detailing his contacts with businessman Sir James Dyson instead of publishing the messages themselves.
The release prompted a demand from SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford for an independent public inquiry into allegations of “sleaze”, privileged access and impropriety.
In response to a demand from Mr Blackford to “publish all personal exchanges” on Covid-related contracts, Mr Johnson told the House of Commons on Wednesday that he was “happy to share all the details”.
His comment at prime minister’s questions was widely interpreted as a promise to publish all personal contacts he had with Dyson in relation to a ventilator contract, if not with all busineses bidding for work on the government’s response to coronavirus.
And Mr Johnson appeared to confirm this when he was asked during a visit to Derbyshire if he would “publish your communications ... with James Dyson”, telling reporters: “Indeed. I think that is happening today.”
But on Friday evening, Downing Street released a narrative statement, detailing how the prime minister had established the Ventilator Challenge to boost supplies of vital medical equipment early in the pandemic and how the government had responded to Dyson’s concerns about the tax status of overseas-based engineers working on the project.
A furious Mr Blackford responded: “The prime minister gave a commitment to publish all of his correspondence relating to covid contracts but, yet again, he has failed to honour his word.
“There must now be a full independent public inquiry into the Tory sleaze scandal and the accusations of privileged access, impropriety and possible illegality.”
The SNP Westminster leader added: “The public have a right to know why Tory donors and friends have been handed contracts, special access, tax breaks and peerages, at a cost to the public purse of many millions of pounds.
“It absolutely stinks and it is eroding public trust in the UK government.”
Mr Blackford said the government’s top civil servant, cabinet secretary Simon Case, should immediately secure and publish all of Mr Johnson’s private correspondence on Covid contracts.
“Intervening now will also guarantee that none of these records can be tampered with or destroyed as allegations mount,” he said.
“Whether it’s Cash for Honours or Texts for Contracts, the public must have faith that this Tory cronyism will be fully investigated and rooted out - with those responsible held to account.”
Mr Johnson defended his text exchanges with Dyson, which saw him promise to “fix” an issue relating to the statutory residence test, which determines whether an individual is resident in the UK for tax purposes.
The PM told reporters: “Let me tell you, if you think that there’s anything remotely dodgy or rum or weird or sleazy about trying to secure more ventilators at a time of a national pandemic and doing everything in your power to do that, then I think you are out of your mind.
“I think it was actually Tony Blair, the former leader of the Labour Party, who said that any prime minister would have done the same – or he certainly would have done the same.”
Mr Johnson said that encouraging businesses to produce large numbers of ventilators quickly was “completely the right thing to do” in the early weeks of the Covid outbreak, when there were fears the NHS did not have enough of the machines.