UK life peer takes leave over COVID contracts claims

LONDON (AP) — A Conservative member of the House of Lords said Tuesday she was taking a leave of absence from Parliament to “clear her name” over allegations that she profited from links to a company awarded government contracts for personal protective equipment during the coronavirus pandemic.

Michelle Mone has denied reports that she used her political connections to recommend a company called PPE Medpro to senior government officials and won contracts worth more than 200 million pounds ($244 million) to supply protective equipment to the government during the height of the first COVID-19 wave in 2020.

A statement from her office on Tuesday said she was taking a leave of absence from the House of Lords with immediate effect “in order to clear her name of the allegations that have been unjustly leveled against her.”

The Guardian newspaper last week reported that Mone and her children received 29 million pounds originating from profits of PPE Medpro. The BBC has reported that the firm was awarded the public contracts just a month after it was set up, and that millions of surgical gowns that it supplied to U.K. hospitals were never used.

Mone’s lawyers have said she is not connected to PPE Medpro in any capacity.

A standards watchdog for the House of Lords is investigating Mone over her alleged involvement in procuring the contracts. That probe has been paused because other government agencies were looking into the matter as part of a criminal investigation.

Britain’s government has come under heavy criticism for its so-called “VIP lanes” during the pandemic — where preferential treatment for public contracts was given to companies recommended by politicians.

Mone, a businesswoman, was appointed a life peer and given a seat in the unelected House of Lords by former Prime Minister David Cameron in 2015. Parliamentary records show she has not spoken in the chamber since March 2020 and her last recorded vote was in April this year.

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