Photo: Tolga Akmen/EPA
Tory MP Liam Fox has slammed a report of a £20,000 donation from a Covid firm he recommended to the government during the pandemic, calling it an “unfounded smear”.
In an email seen by the BBC and Sky News, sent by Fox to then Health Secretary Matt Hancock on June 22, 2020, the MP recommends Derbyshire-based firm SureScreen Diagnostics.
Sky News reported that Fox said in the email that SureScreen Diagnostics “exported a large number of antibody tests” to Germany, Spain and Sweden and “performed very well in studies conducted internationally.”
Fox also attached an email from David Campbell, the company’s director, urging it to “proceed with UK government approval”.
The MP then added: “Would it be possible to refer this to PHE [Public Health England] and ask them to get in touch with the company.
“As we move into the next phase, I don’t think the British people would understand or approve of the widespread export of this capability when we are going to have a huge need at home.”
Seven months later, SureScreen won a £500million order from the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) to supply another test that shows a current infection.
It’s not clear if this was the result of Fox’s email.
In July 2022, Fox declared in the Members’ Interests Register a donation of £20,000 the previous month (June 2022) from SureScreen.
Fox’s email was obtained by the Good Law Project following a freedom of information request first reported by the BBC.
A Fox spokesman said: “This is baseless slander fabricated by political activist Jolyon Maugham and the Good Law Project [of which Maugham is executive director]. It is appalling that this is being promoted by the BBC.”
The Tory MP would make a formal complaint to the BBC and “seek legal advice on the matter,” the spokesman added.
Maugham told the BBC: “How often do companies have to give money to Tory MPs, having received help winning large public contracts, before concluding that we have a problem with cash for contracts.
“We know exactly what we would call such behavior if we saw it in another country.”
SureScreen said Fox was not aware of any contact with Hancock in 2020 until this was relayed to the company by the BBC.
A spokesman for SureScreen told the BBC: “The donation to the office of Dr. Fox – not Dr. Fox personally – was made by one of the directors of the company. This donation was used to specifically support a series of events that included educational lectures by expert guests.
“The payment is in no way linked to lobbying.”
A spokesman for Hancock denied any wrongdoing, adding that as Health Secretary Hancock was not responsible for signing contracts.
“All DHSC [health department] Contracts are decided, set and signed by the civil service, which is independent of Mr Hancock,” the spokesman said.
“Of course, if Mr Hancock had received an email about the expansion of testing, he would have acted on it regardless of the source. Not to do so would have been totally irresponsible.
“Remember what happened back then was a national effort to expand testing and all of this reveals that people are working together to save lives.”
Hancock resigned as Health Secretary in June 2021.
A spokesman for the DHSC said: “All testing suppliers – including SureScreen Diagnostics – have been assessed against strict sourcing regulations and transparency guidelines prior to contract award.”