AN MP on an anti-cronyism crusade has accused the UK Government of “blatant” corruption.

Owen Thompson says the awarding of public contracts worth billions to Conservative Party donors and contacts has put the UK at a pivotal moment that could shape politics for years to come.

The Midlothian MP this week urged Labour leader Keir Starmer to back his Ministerial Interest (Emergency Powers) Bill, which would force UK ministers to answer questions about any personal, political or financial connections they may have to firms awarded government contracts under emergency regulations brought in at the start of the pandemic.

Today he tells the Sunday National he believes the “cronyism” of Boris Johnson’s administration has put the UK at a turning point.

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“A government is handing out hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ money in contracts to companies that are run by party donors and people who are personally close to that government. If you were to describe the situation about another country, you would say that is corrupt,” he says. “In any other country in the planet, you would say that. It’s the old boys’ club.

“If they get away with this just now, it’ll change the way the governments of the UK behave forever. It’s a benchmark. What is to stop any government of the UK doing it?”

The comments come after Friday’s High Court ruling, in which a judge said the government unlawfully failed to publish details of billions of pounds’ worth of coronavirus-related contracts. It’s required by law to do so within 30 days of an award worth more than £120,000, but Matt ­Hancock’s Department of Health and ­Social Care (DHSC) breached this “in a substantial number of cases”, Justice Chamberlain found.

The challenge was brought by the Good Law Project, which argued that the government was breaching its own transparency policy. The judge said there is “no dispute” about that.

Under the emergency regulations, public-sector agencies can bypass standard rules and processes where doing so would help the fight against coronavirus. Contracts can be ­directly awarded, existing deals ­extended or modified and procurement ­procedures accelerated.

It’s emerged that many high-value deals have been given to firms ­connected to the Tory party, but the Johnson administration has refused to answer questions about a “VIP fast track lane” used to handle bids by companies introduced by ministers and government staff.

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This week a court heard Dominic Cummings, the former chief adviser to the Prime Minister, “expected” officials to give a £560,000 research job to a firm run by “friends” who helped write the Conservatives’ 2019 general election manifesto.

The National: Midlothian MP Owen Thompson this week urged Labour leader Keir Starmer to back his Ministerial Interest (Emergency Powers) BillMidlothian MP Owen Thompson this week urged Labour leader Keir Starmer to back his Ministerial Interest (Emergency Powers) Bill

The VIP track was uncovered in a recent report by the National Audit Office and included potential PPE leads from officials, ministers, and peers. One in 10 applicants on that list were successful, compared with 0.7% of others.

Professor Robert Barrington, of the Centre for the Study of Corruption at Sussex University, has said it is “not clear why an MP or peer should have any particular insight into PPE procurement” and “usually, people in positions of power who have no knowledge of procurement are kept out of the process precisely to avoid an abuse of power”.

“There has been so much coming out,” says Thompson, who was ­re-elected for the SNP in December 2019. “I suspect there will be a significant amount still to come. Folk are ­really digging deep.

“I have this image of a desk piled with forms from folk putting in for contracts and some are a different colour and they get put to the top of the pile.”

If this isn’t the case, Thompson says, then the government should simply adopt his bill. It’s had its first reading, but there’s no date for a ­second. “If the winner of a contract is the right person for it, fair enough, they have nothing to fear and there’s no reason for the government not to back the bill.

“But these issues are getting closer and closer to the top.”

Thompson fears the Tories will take advantage of the Internal Market Act, which allows Westminster to override devolved legislatures, to give advantage to their “cronies”. And he says the “Boris burrow” – a mooted multi-billion pound tunnel from Stranraer to Larne – could be such an example, if it’s ever approved. Last week it emerged that a report is due to hit the Prime Minister’s desk within weeks.

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“They can make announcements on projects like that with absolutely no intention of seeing them through,” Thompson says. “It could be five or 10 years before they even have to start looking like they’re doing anything, but they can be handing out contracts for some work even at that stage.

“If they have a candidate they really want to get elected into the Scottish Parliament, they could simply pile hundreds of millions of infrastructure into that particular area to let that candidate say ‘this is why I’m such a great representative, this is why you should vote for us, this is the Union dividend’.

“This bill is for any right-minded person who wants openness and transparency in spending taxpayers’ money to get behind.”

The UK Government says it had to “award contracts at speed to secure the vital supplies required to protect NHS workers and the public.”, adding: “We fully recognise the importance of transparency in the award of public contracts and continue to publish information about contracts awarded as soon as possible.”