United Kingdom

BBC makes apology to Sir James Dyson for saying he was a 'prominent Conservative supporter'

The BBC has today made a grovelling apology to Sir James Dyson for incorrectly labelling him a 'prominent Conservative supporter'.

The broadcaster made the erroneous claim within its report of tax texts sent between the billionaire British investor and Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

It attempted to support the claim that Sir James was a Tory-backer by saying the entrepreneur had made a £11,000 donation to the Conservative party.

But it was later revealed that the donation, from the James Dyson Foundation, was actually to the Wiltshire Engineering Festival - an event for school children. 

Now the broadcaster has apologised after accepting that, while the event was organised by a Tory MP, it is not affiliated to the Conservative party.

In an apology, posted on the BBC's website, it said: 'We accept that Sir James Dyson is not a prominent Conservative supporter as was stated in some of our coverage of his text messages with the Prime Minister.

The BBC has today made a grovelling apology to Sir James Dyson (pictured) for incorrectly labelling him a 'prominent Conservative supporter'

The broadcaster made the erroneous claim within its report of tax texts sent between the billionaire British investor and Prime Minister Boris Johnson (pictured)

'The James Dyson Foundation made a charitable gift to support the Wiltshire Engineering Festival for school children.

'We accept that this does not signal affiliation to any political party and we would like to put the record straight.' 

Text exchange between Boris Johnson and Sir James Dyson over the tax status of his employees

Dyson: 'We are ready. But nobody seems to want us to proceed. Sadly, James'

Johnson: 'I will fix it tomo! We need you. It looks fantastic'

Johnson: 'Rishi says it is fixed!! We need you here'

Dyson: 'Thanks! I will give the ventilator our all. James'

Dyson: 'Dear Boris, I'm afraid that we need a response to our letter below from Rishi please? We really need Rishi to answer the letter we sent (attached) - now. Or to make the position clear. Rishi has fixed the Country Day Count issue but not Work Days. The former is now covered under an 'Exceptional Circumstances' umbrella, Work Days are not. So, he has freed up your ability to be in the UK but not to work there - even in support of this National emergency.'

Johnson: 'James I am first lord of the treasury and you can take it that we are backing you to do what you need.'

Just two weeks later, Chancellor Rishi Sunak told MPs that those coming into the UK to offer help during the pandemic would not see a change in their tax status.

The BBC also clarified elements of its original article, which highlighted texts sent between Sir James and Mr Johnson last year.

Sir James had, at the personal request of the Prime Minister, offered the support of his vacuum firm to produce ventilators at the start of the Covid pandemic.  

He later wrote an official letter to the Treasury asking for the tax status of his staff to remain the same if they moved from Singapore to the UK to produce vital ventilators during the pandemic. 

The inventor followed this up with a series of texts to the Prime Minister, which were later disclosed by the BBC.

But, in its apology to Sir James, the broadcaster said it had not included the fact that the Prime Minister had directly contacted the inventor to ask for support in making ventilators.

The BBC also said it had not reported the fact that doing so had cost the company £20million, nor that the texts between Sir James and the Prime Minister had later been forwarded to Whitehall officials.

The statement added: 'We are sorry that these facts were not always reflected in our coverage, and we apologise for not doing so.'

Today Sir James slammed the 'twisted' reporting of his donation to the Wiltshire Engineering Festival - organised by local MP Michelle Donelan - as 'shameful'.

But he said he had ultimately accepted the BBC's apology. In a statement sent to MailOnline, he said: 'The BBC now acknowledges that it was wrong and has issued an apology – which I accept.

'To justify its claim that I am a “prominent Conservative supporter” the BBC shamefully twisted our charitable gift to school children to suit their political narrative.

'The Prime Minister asked Dyson to help at a time of crisis, in the national interest, and we did just that. 

'We dropped everything and focused on the national effort. Far from any gain, the project cost us £20million - a sum we voluntarily bore. 

He added: 'I am proud of the efforts of every Dyson person who contributed and we would do precisely the same again. 

'It was deeply disappointing, for me and for the hundreds of Dyson people who gave it their all, to have our efforts developing an emergency ventilator mischaracterised and used for political mudslinging.'

Two weeks after the text exchange, Chancellor Rishi Sunak told MPs that those coming into the UK to offer help during the pandemic would not see a change in their tax status

It emerged in April that Sir James had written an official letter to the Treasury asking for the tax status of his staff to remain the same if they moved from Singapore to the UK to produce vital ventilators during the pandemic.

But in a private text, seen by the BBC, Mr Johnson told Sir James that he 'will fix it' himself.

He then added 'Rishi says it is fixed!! We need you here'.

Just two weeks later, Rishi Sunak told MPs that those coming into the UK to offer help during the pandemic would not see a change in their tax status.

Sir James said some of Dyson's brightest minds had turned their attention to creating ventilators after a personal request by Mr Johnson at the start of the pandemic.

He said the company had dedicated 450 engineers to the project and had absorbed around £20million in costs - without asking the Government for support.

According to a Dyson spokesperson, the company created 10,000 ventilators but they were not required due to changing treatment methods. 

The company then concluded the project in May last year, having been told their help would no longer be needed.

A spokesperson for Sir James, a prominent supporter of Brexit, added that the entrepreneur had spoken at party conferences for Labour and the Conservatives, both times about engineering.

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