“We already have goods that conform to different standards. France, for instance, has different laws on flame retardant furniture - but we have no laws to check goods.”
This was very unusual indeed. A BBC reporter picked up on it and by a somewhat roundabout route I ended up having a conversation with him about what might be behind Johnson's comment. Below is an email I sent to some colleagues about it. There are other connections with Tory Ministers I didn't list here, mainly for brevity's sake, e.g. the fact that the Special Advisor to Greg Clarke (Secretary of State for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) took a sabbatical to go work for a few months for Burson Marsteller, the massive PR firm that represents the three biggest flame retardant producers, at a time when the future of the Furniture Regulations was being decided by his own department.
Sent:14 June 2019 20:15
Subject:Boris and the Furniture Regs
I just had a long talk with [a BBC reporter] who was suitably amazed to hear what's behind all this. He's going to talk to others in the BBC who are perhaps more suitable for a bigger picture story.
I think the key question is why would Boris Johnson even raise the issue of the Furniture Regulations and flame retardants? Okay, he seems to be claiming the opposite of what is true - hardly a first for Boris - that France has nasty flame retardants in its furniture which we can't stop them importing. But as said, given the controversy around them, why mention them at all? What's he trying to head off?
Well, to speculate: it could be that the Tories see this as a potential scandal about to come out with them at its centre; for example:
- In 2014, Mathew Hancock and Oliver Letwin leaned on Jo Swinson to prevent her making safety changes to the regs
- Anna Soubry failed to get the changes made in April 2016 despite ordering civil servants to do so
- Sajid Javid appointed Sir Ken Knight as Chair of the independent experts group to the Grenfell Inquiry after Sir Ken had played a key role in blocking changes to the Furniture Regs
- James Brokenshire, his successor, has refused to look at the evidence against Sir Ken
- Kelly Tolhurst is now blocking changes and in a most unconvincing manner
- All of this impacting on the full truth about the toxicity of Grenfell Tower coming out
- Labour MPs like Emma Dent Coad and Mary Creagh doing the right thing against all these Tory shenanigans