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Boris Johnson's anti-fraud minister resigned over the government's 'lamentable track record' in tackling COVID-19 loan fraud

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Lord Agnew
Lord AgnewParliament Live / parliamentlive.tv
  • Anti-fraud minister Lord Agnew resigned from government over its failure to tackle fraud in COVID-19 loan schemes.

  • He said the government's attempts to claw back money from fraudsters had been 'woefully inadequate'.

  • It represents another blow to Prime Minister Boris Johnson's authority.

The UK's anti-fraud minister has dramatically resigned after criticising Boris Johnson's administration for failing to tackle fraud in a state-backed COVID-19 loan scheme which may cost the taxpayer more than £3 billion.

Lord Agnew, a minister for efficiency and transformation at the Cabinet Office and Treasury, announced his resignation in the House of Lords on Monday in response to an urgent question from Labour on the government's record on COVID-19 loan fraud.

He said he could not defend the government's track record on Covid loan schemes and called attempts to recover billions of pounds in fraudulent loans, which were distributed to UK firms during the coronavirus pandemic, "woefully inadequate."

Agnew said: "Given that I am the minister for counter-fraud, it feels somewhat dishonest to stay on in that role if I am incapable of doing it properly, let alone defending our track record. It is for this reason that I have sadly decided to tender my resignation as a minister across the Treasury and Cabinet Office with immediate effect."

The Treasury last week quietly announced it had written off more than £4.3 billion in loans from a total of £5.8 billion that firms claimed fraudulently from government-backed schemes during the coronavirus pandemic, The Times reported. The loans had been designed to keep businesses afloat during the pandemic.

Lord Agnew said that the government — which backed loans given to thousands of businesses — had already handed banks more than £1 billion to cover loans which had been defaulted on.

Nearly a quarter of that sum was a result of fraud, he said.

The peer criticized the Treasury and the Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy Department (BEIS) in particular, accusing officials of making "schoolboy errors."

"I've been arguing with Treasury and BEIS officials for nearly two years to get them to lift their game: I have been mostly unsuccessful," he said.

A Downing Street spokesperson said: "We are grateful to Lord Agnew for his significant contribution he has made to government."

Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves said: "This is a damning indictment of the Chancellor and the Government's failures on fraud.

"That the Government's own anti-fraud minister feels he is unable to defend the Government's record on billions of pounds of taxpayer cash gifted to criminals tells you all you need to know about the incompetence of this government.

"It should be a source of enduring shame to the Chancellor that he has so casually written off £4.3bn of taxpayers' money that is now in the hand of criminals and gangs."

Read the original article on Business Insider

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