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Michelle Mone referred company for PPE contracts five days before it was incorporated | Conservatives

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The Conservative peer Michelle Mone referred a business to the Cabinet Office for potential multimillion pound PPE contracts before it had even been incorporated as a company, it has emerged.

The business, PPE Medpro, was fast-tracked by the government through its “VIP lane” for politically connected firms following the referral by Mone.

Within weeks of the company’s incorporation on 12 May 2020, PPE Medpro was awarded contracts worth £203m to supply millions of masks and gowns.

The Guardian revealed on Thursday that leaked files appear to suggest that Mone and her husband, the Isle of Man-based financier Douglas Barrowman, were secretly involved in PPE Medpro, despite both consistently denying any “role or function” in the company.

It has now emerged that Mone’s referral of PPE Medpro occurred five days before the company was formally registered.

Responding to a recent parliamentary question from the late Labour MP Jack Dromey, health minister Edward Argar said: “Departmental records indicate that Baroness Mone identified Medpro as a potential supplier on 7 May 2020 and highlighted this opportunity by email on 8 May 2020.”

Mone referred PPE Medpro to the office of her fellow Tory peer Theodore Agnew, a Cabinet Office minister responsible for procurement during the Covid pandemic. PPE Medpro was then added by Agnew’s office to the VIP lane, which analysis later showed gave companies a 10 times greater chance of being awarded a contract.

PPE Medpro was not incorporated in the UK until 12 May 2020, five days after the initial referral. The UK company was effectively a subsidiary of another PPE Medpro, registered in the Isle of Man on 11 May. The director of both companies was Anthony Page, who works for Barrowman’s Isle of Man-based financial services firm and runs his family office.

Lawyers for Mone, who ran a lingerie company before David Cameron made her a member of the House of Lords, have always said she “was not connected to PPE Medpro in any capacity”.

They also said she had no “association” with PPE Medpro, and “never had any role or function in PPE Medpro, nor in the process by which contracts were awarded” to the company.

Contacted on Friday, Mone did not respond to questions about why she referred PPE Medpro the week before the company had even been incorporated. Both Mone and Agnew have declined to say what, if anything, she disclosed about her own links to the company when she referred it.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said Mone’s emailed referral is considered “private correspondence” that would not normally be publicly disclosed.

Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, wrote to Cabinet Office minister Stephen Barclay on Friday, expressing concern about “the lack of transparency around the award of significant sums of public money to PPE Medpro”.

“I would ask now that the government … commits now to place all correspondence and records relating to the award in the library of the House [of Commons] for parliamentary scrutiny,” Rayner said in her letter.

The timing of Mone’s referral of PPE Medpro also appears to be significant because it seems to have occurred days before the company had even secured the crucial business deal that enabled it to supply PPE to the NHS.

Documents seen by the Guardian suggest it was not until 11 May – the same day the Isle of Man PPE Medpro was registered – that the company secured its agreement with a London importing company, Loudwater Trade and Finance.

Under the terms of the business deal, documents suggest Loudwater promised to supply the PPE, whereas PPE Medpro appears to have committed to use its “extensive network to seek to secure … contracts with the NHS and other government bodies within the British Isles”.

It appears PPE Medpro undertook that commitment just days after Mone had made the referral to the Cabinet Office.

Documents seen by the Guardian also appear to show Barrowman was personally involved in setting up PPE Medpro’s deal with Loudwater’s director, Maurice Stimler, as well as related business matters.

Barrowman’s lawyers have also repeatedly distanced him from the company, saying he was not an investor, director or shareholder. They have said the Guardian’s reporting amounted to “clutching at straws” and was “largely incorrect”.

Mone’s lawyers have said the Guardian’s reporting is “grounded entirely on supposition and speculation and not based on accuracy”, adding: “She is under no obligation to say anything to you.”

They have also said that after she took the “very simple, solitary and brief step” of referring the company to Agnew, she “did not do anything further in respect of PPE Medpro”.

However, WhatsApp messages believed to have been sent by Mone in late June 2020, over a month after the referral, appear to show her discussing the gown sizes and purchase order details with a person in PPE Medpro’s supply chain.

The messages, which Mone appears to have sent shortly before taking off in a private jet, occurred shortly before PPE Medpro secured its second contract with the government.

Mone’s lawyers said she could not be expected to comment on “unknown and unattributable WhatsApp messages allegedly sent 19 months ago”.

Her lawyers have also refused to be drawn on why, according to a Financial Times report, Mone was in contact with officials as recently as February 2021, and appeared to be “incandescent with rage” over the treatment of PPE Medpro.

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Solar storms may cause up to 5500 heart-related deaths in a given year

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In an approximate 11-year cycle, the sun blasts out charged particles and magnetised plasma that can distort Earth’s magnetic field, which may disrupt our body clock and ultimately affect our heart



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17 June 2022

A solar storm

Jurik Peter/Shutterstock

Solar storms that disrupt Earth’s magnetic field may cause up to 5500 heart-related deaths in the US in a given year.

The sun goes through cycles of high and low activity that repeat approximately every 11 years. During periods of high activity, it blasts out charged particles and magnetised plasma that can distort Earth’s magnetic field.

These so-called solar storms can cause glitches in our power grids and bring down Earth-orbiting satellites. A handful of studies have also hinted that they increase the risk of …

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UK Covid infection rate rising, with more than a million cases in England | Coronavirus

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Coronavirus infections are rising in the UK, figures have revealed, with experts noting the increase is probably down to the more transmissible BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants.

The figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), based on swabs collected from randomly selected households, reveal that in the week ending 11 June an estimated one in 50 people in the community in England are thought to have had Covid – around 1.13 million people.

The figure is even higher, at one in 45, in both Wales and Northern Ireland, while it was highest in Scotland where, in the week ending 10 June, one in 30 people are thought to have been infected.

While the figures remain below the peak levels of infection seen earlier this year, when around one in 13 people in England had Covid, the findings are a rise on the previous week where one in 70 people in England were thought to be infected. Furthermore, the data reveals increases in all regions of England, except the north-east, and across all age groups.

Experts say that a key factor in the increase is probably the rise of the Covid variants of concern BA.4 and BA.5.

“Infections have increased across all four UK nations, driven by rising numbers of people infected with the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants,” said Kara Steel, senior statistician for the Covid-19 Infection Survey.

While Steel said it remained too early to say if this was the start of another wave, others have warned it may already have begun, with increased mixing and travelling among other factors fuelling a rise in cases.

Among concerns scientists have raised are that BA.4, BA.5 and another variant on the rise, BA.2.12.1, replicate more efficiently in human lung cells than BA.2.

Prof Azra Ghani, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London, said the latest figures were not surprising, and might rise further.

“This increase in infection prevalence is likely due to the growth of the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants, which as we have seen elsewhere in Europe, appear to be able to escape immunity generated from previous Omicron subvariants,” she said.

“It is therefore possible that we will continue to see some growth in infection prevalence in the coming weeks and consequently an increase in hospitalisations, although these subvariants do not currently appear to result in any significantly changed severity profile. This does however serve as a reminder that the Covid-19 pandemic is not over.”

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NHS to offer women in England drug that cuts recurrence of breast cancer | Breast cancer

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Thousands of women in England with breast cancer are to benefit from a new pill on the NHS which reduces the risk of the disease coming back.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) has given the green light to abemaciclib, which cuts the chance of breast cancer returning after a patient has had surgery to remove a tumour.

Trials showed that patients who had the drug with hormone therapy had a more than 30% improved chance of their cancer not coming back after surgery, compared with hormone therapy alone.

“It’s fantastic thousands of women with this type of primary breast cancer will now have an additional treatment option available on the NHS to help further reduce the risk of the disease coming back,” said Delyth Morgan, the chief executive of charity Breast Cancer Now.

“The fear of breast cancer returning or spreading to other parts of their body and becoming incurable can cause considerable anxiety for so many women and their loved ones.

“New effective treatments such as abemaciclib, which can offer more women the chance to further reduce the risk of the disease recurring, are therefore extremely welcome and this is an important step change in the drug options available for this group of patients.”

The twice-a-day pill is suitable for women with hormone receptor-positive, HER2-negative, node-positive early breast cancer at high risk of recurrence who have had surgery. About 4,000 women will benefit initially, Nice said.

Helen Knight, the interim director of medicines evaluation at Nice, said the draft recommendation came less than a month after abemaciclib received its licence.

“The fact that we have been able to produce draft recommendations so quickly is testament to the success of our ambition to support patient access to clinically and cost effective treatments as early as possible,” said Knight. “Until now there have been no targeted treatments for people with this type of breast cancer.

“Abemaciclib with hormone therapy represents a significant improvement in how it is treated because being able to have a targeted treatment earlier after surgery will increase the chance of curing the disease and reduce the likelihood of developing incurable advanced disease.”

Abemaciclib works by targeting and inhibiting proteins in cancer cells which allow the cancer to divide and grow. It normally costs £2,950 for a packet of 56 150mg-tablets, but the manufacturer, Eli Lilly, has agreed an undisclosed discounted price for NHS England.

“Thanks in part to this latest deal struck by NHS England, NHS patients will be able to access another new targeted drug for a common and aggressive form of breast cancer,” said Prof Peter Johnson, the cancer director of NHS England.

“Abemaciclib, when used alongside a hormone therapy, offers a new, doubly targeted, treatment option, helping to increase the chances of beating the cancer for good, as well as meeting the NHS’s commitment to delivering improved cancer care under our long-term plan.”

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