The SNP has written to Cabinet Secretary Simon Case calling for an independent investigation into the abuse of emergency COVID contracts, by UK government ministers, to conduct political research for Tory constitutional campaigning.
In an Urgent Question in the House of Commons, Ian Blackford MP (pictured) said an inquiry is essential to get to the bottom of the “blatant misuse of public money” – after High Court evidence revealed that Michael Gove used a £560,000 emergency covid contract, publicly-funded to tackle the pandemic and save lives, to undertake political research on “attitudes to the UK Union”.
The SNP Westminster Leader also called for the UK government to publish the publicly-funded research so taxpayers can see what their money has been spent on.
Michael Gove has already been found to have acted unlawfully in awarding the £560,000 emergency COVID contract to market-research firm Public First, owned by long-term associates James Frayne and Rachel Wolf, who both formerly worked for Mr Gove.
Earlier this month High Court Judge Mrs Justice O’Farrell ruled it “gave rise to apparent bias and was unlawful”.
Evidence published in the High Court judgement on The Good Law Project vs Minister for the Cabinet Office, reveal that the services provided by Public First under the emergency COVID-19 contract were extended in July 2020, on the “urgent” orders of Michael Gove, to include qualitative research into ‘attitudes to the UK Union’.
Commenting, SNP Westminster Leader Ian Blackford MP said:
“It’s a scandal that at the height of a deadly pandemic, Tory ministers were abusing emergency COVID contracts for constitutional campaigning – instead of saving lives.
“There must be an independent inquiry to determine how on earth this was allowed to happen, how much public money has been spent, and to hold those responsible to account.
“If the Scottish Government had used emergency COVID funding to conduct polling on independence there would be justifiable outrage.
“Tory ministers must be held to the same standards.
“They can’t be allowed to sweep this under the carpet in yet another Tory cover up.
“Tory cronyism is engulfing Westminster.
“It absolutely stinks that Tory ministers are abusing emergency contracts for their own ends, and that so many Tory friends and donors have been handed lucrative jobs, privileged access, and millions of pounds of our public money.
“This scandal isn’t going away.
“The public has a right to know what our taxpayers’ money has been spent on.
“If Tory ministers have nothing to hide they should have no problem supporting an inquiry and publishing the results of this research in full without further delay.”