New Forest East MP Julian Lewis denies favouritism over links to 'VIP lane' PPE supplier
NEW Forest East MP Julian Lewis has rejected suggestions of favouritism after links emerged between him and a family behind a Lymington company awarded nearly £100m of government PPE contracts.
Brandology Ltd, which specialises in luxury packaging, was given a £69.6m contract in June and another worth £29.3m in July 2020 by the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC).
All the PPE deals were awarded without going through a tender process, with ministers citing the emergency of dealing with the pandemic.
As reported in the A&T, government documents showed it was Dr Lewis who referred the company for the contracts, despite it being outside his constituency, through a so-called “VIP lane”.
Now the A&T has unearthed evidence of links dating back to 2008 between Dr Lewis and Major Peter Charles Baillie, who is father and grandfather to two current directors of the company.
Mr Baillie, who died in 2017, was the one who presented Dr Lewis with the presidency of the British Military Powerboat Trust (BMPT), according to minutes of its 2008 AGM.
The current directors of Brandology Ltd are Mr Baillie’s granddaughter, Hannah Halstead-Morton, and one of his daughters, Elizabeth Clabburn.
Elizabeth was formerly married to Peter Clabburn, another member of the BMPT of which Dr Lewis served as president.
Asked about the links, Dr Lewis told the A&T: “I do not think that I’ve had any connection with any of them for more than a decade.
“But if – as it appears – some of them managed to supply this country with high quality PPE when we desperately needed it, then I am glad to have put them in touch with the appropriate government department.”
Dr Lewis added: “I have never met Ms Morton, who approached me because of her firm’s difficulty in contacting the government at the height of a national crisis.
“My only knowledge of her other relations was years previously, in connection with the well-respected local charity, the British Military Powerboat Trust – often helpfully covered by the A&T until the charity was wound up in 2009.”
Mr Bailie attended Eton as a youngster and was well known in the New Forest, having been instrumental in setting up the Fortune Centre for Riding Therapy and owning Wootton Hall, near New Milton.
The so-called “VIP lane” was a fast-track process set up by the DHSC for supply offers. It recently came under scrutiny after it emerged 50 companies used it and got £1.6bn of PPE contracts. Many had links to Tory donors and ex-MPs.
Dr Lewis pointed out he “transparently” highlighted Brandology – although without naming it publicly – during an exchange in parliament with Matt Hancock in May 2020.
Hansard shows Dr Lewis asking the then health secretary to “kindly turn some of his attention” to a “firm in my constituency”.
Ms Halstead-Morton has previously revealed she emailed the offices of both Dr Lewis and New Forest West MP Sir Desmond Swayne seeking help.
Sir Desmond told the A&T he passed on Brandology’s details to a number of care homes locally and Hampshire County Council.
As to whether he spoke to Dr Lewis over Brandology, he replied: “I have no recollection of any dealings with Julian regarding this, nor can I think of any reason why I would have done.
“I have searched my electronic record and found nothing.”