Rishi Sunak has said he was “shocked” to read allegations about the Conservative peer Michelle Mone, as it emerged that her loss of the Tory whip in the Lords only came about because she voluntarily took a leave of absence.
Citing information revealed by the Guardian, Keir Starmer asked Sunak at prime minister’s questions: “How did his colleague Baroness Mone end up with nearly £30m of taxpayers’ money in her bank account?”
Sunak replied: “Like everyone else, I was absolutely shocked to read about the allegations,” prompting jeers from the Labour benches.
He continued: “It’s absolutely right that she is no longer attending the House of Lords and therefore no longer has the Conservative whip. The one thing we know about the honourable gentleman is that he is a lawyer – he should know there is a process in place. It is right that process concludes. I hope it is resolved promptly.”
On Tuesday, Mone’s spokesperson said she was taking leave of absence from the Lords with immediate effect, “in order to clear her name of the allegations that have been unjustly levelled against her”.
It is her taking a leave of absence that means she no longer holds the Tory whip, given that the party had declined to remove it while she was still in the Lords.
After PMQS, No 10 confirmed that neither Sunak nor the Conservative whips office had taken any action against Mone, and that she lost the whip by default.
“It was her voluntary decision” to step back from the Lords, Sunak’s press secretary said, dismissing as “hypothetical” questions about whether Mone would get the whip back if she returns.
At PMQs, Starmer pushed Sunak on Mone, saying: “Everyone can see what’s happening here. A Tory politician got their hands on hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ money, and then provided duff PPE. And he says he’s shocked? He was the chancellor. He signed cheques. How much is he going to get back?”
Sunak avoided the question, talking instead about rail strikes in response.
The Guardian revealed last month that bank records indicated Mone and her children secretly received £29m originating from the profits of a PPE business that was awarded large government contracts. In addition, a second company that she lobbied ministers over in an attempt to secure government Covid contracts was a secret entity of her husband’s family office, the Guardian also reported.
On Tuesday evening, Labour won a vote that would force the government to publish some documents underpinning the contracts.
It came as a donor who recently defected to Labour said the Conservative party’s response to the allegations about Mone had only strengthened his determination to help oust it from office.
Gareth Quarry, a businessman who recently gave Labour £50,000, said he planned to increase that sum in the coming months, saying the Tories had trashed their reputation and that of the country.