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She is no stranger to the spotlight. A book deal, regular television appearances and a prolific presence on Instagram, all part of a carefully crafted public image that helped Michelle Mone secure a peerage in 2015.

Yet, Baroness Mone – or “Lady M” as she often refers to herself – has been keeping a low profile in recent weeks.

A series of damaging allegations have thrust the lingerie entrepreneur and Conservative peer into the centre of an alleged scandal that is engulfing the House of Lords.

She is accused of attempting to “bully and hector” ministers into awarding public PPE contracts worth more than £200m to a company called PPE Medpro during the pandemic and of profiting from the deal – a claim she strongly denies.

Having now taken a leave of absence from the House of Lords, Lady Mone says she wants to clear her name but she has been noticeably quiet so far.

On the Isle of Man, at the 154 acre-estate she shares with her husband Douglas Barrowman, preparations are under way for the festive period.

Christmas trees, wreaths and decorations adorn the home, but staff – who have been told not to speak to journalists – insist they have no idea where the couple are.

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It’s a peaceful corner of the island and the gated property may offer Mone some refuge from the growing scandal – but the issue is not going away any time soon.

The House of Lords is looking into whether Mone broke any rules and the National Crime Agency has launched a fraud investigation into PPE Medpro, whose gowns were unusable because they failed NHS checks.

A number of official reports will follow but Lady Mone’s representatives have described it as a “witch hunt”.

At the centre of the storm is Michelle and her husband Douglas. According to files compiled by HSBC, which were first obtained by The Guardian, accounts linked to Barrowman, and later Mone, received millions of pounds in transfers from PPE Medpro.

Michelle Mone is admitted to the House of Lords as Baroness Mone of Mayfair, after being made a Tory peer.
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Michelle Mone is admitted to the House of Lords as Baroness Mone of Mayfair, after being made a Tory peer

Another leaked document lists PPE Medpro as an “entity” of Barrowman’s family office, the Knox family office on the Isle of Man.

It was prepared by Anthony Page, a finance director at one of its trusts and the registered owner of PPE Medpro.

At his home in the centre of the Isle, Mr Page was keeping a low profile.

He refused to speak when Sky News approached him for an interview.

Neighbours described him as “a very pleasant family man” and said they were surprised by the news of his involvement in the scandal.

Situation needs ‘proper investigation’

Residents told us that news usually travels fast on the Isle of Man, but there was a sense of resignation about the latest revelations. A feeling that this is just another Westminster scandal.

Frank Schuengel, a councillor for Douglas South Ward, said: “It’s a big topic in the UK, probably more there (than here) because we don’t have a House of Lords. It’s not applicable, we have our own government.

“It’s not the kind of politics that I would personally do but I’m sure there will be processes and investigations.

“It’s a shame whenever someone doesn’t act in a way that you would wish all politicians to act.

“But I think it’s being investigated and if something is not right, one would hope that any investigation would uncover that.”

Baroness Mone (centre) ahead of the State Opening of Parliament by Queen Elizabeth II, in the House of Lords at the Palace of Westminster in London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday June 21, 2017. See PA story POLITICS Speech. Photo credit should read: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
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Baroness Mone (centre) ahead of the state opening of parliament by Queen Elizabeth II in 2017

Some wanted to avoid jumping to conclusions before investigations are completed, but others had already made up their minds.

On Strand Street, the main shopping high street in Douglas, one local resident said: “It is disappointing. I think that anybody that does that kind of thing just isn’t really a moral person. So, it’s a bad example. Hopefully more will come to light.”

Another added: “I just think it’s awful. There were a lot of irregularities surrounding all the PPE supplies during the pandemic. As far as Michelle Mone is concerned… and the situation around it, I think needs proper investigation.”

‘Corruption at the highest levels’

Mone’s lawyers claim she only made the “simple, solitary and brief step,” of referring the company to the government.

They insist she and her husband, Douglas, had no involvement in PPE Medpro, nor did they play any role in the process through which it was awarded its government contract.

Baroness Michelle Mone attends the State Opening of Parliament in 2019.
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Baroness Michelle Mone attends the state opening of parliament in 2019

That was before a series of damaging emails appeared to show her pressuring ministers to award PPE Medpro government contracts.

At the height of the pandemic, she wrote to former health secretary Matt Hancock, allegedly saying: “I am going to blow this all wide open.

“I smell a rat here. It’s more than the usual red tape, incompetence and bureaucracy. That’s expected! I believe there is corruption here at the highest levels and a cover up is taking place… Don’t say I didn’t warn you when Panorama or Horizon run an exposé documentary on all this.

“I say a level playing field for all.”

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PPE Medpro was later awarded two contracts worth more than £200m without tender. The entire process is now coming under intense scrutiny.

Lady Mone foresaw this – but she probably didn’t expect to be at the centre of it all.

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Rishi Sunak plans to ban Channel migrants from appealing deportation

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Rishi Sunak plans to ban Channel migrants from appealing deportation

The prime minister is looking to ban people arriving in the UK via small boats from appealing against deportation, Sky News understands.

Rishi Sunak has made stopping Channel migrant crossings one of his five priorities in office, promising to introduce new laws to “make sure that if you come to this country illegally, you are detained and swiftly removed”.

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A report in The Times said the Home Office has now drawn up two plans to stop people arriving via this route from claiming asylum – either withdrawing the right to appeal against automatic exclusion from the asylum system or only allowing them to appeal after they have been deported.

A third proposal would prevent people from being able to use the Human Rights Act to stop their deportations, such as by claiming their right to family life.

Sky News understands the report to be accurate.

A Home Office spokesperson would not comment directly on the report, but said: “The unacceptable number of people risking their lives by making these dangerous crossings is placing an unprecedented strain on our asylum system.

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“Our priority is to stop this and prevent these illegal crossings, and our new Small Boats Operational Command – bolstered by hundreds of extra staff – is working hard to disrupt the business model of people smugglers.”

They added: “We are also going further by introducing legislation which will ensure that those people arriving in the UK illegally are detained and promptly removed either to their home country or a safe third country.”

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Chinese spy balloon: US sec of state Blinken speaks with senior Chinese official over cancelled visit

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Chinese spy balloon: US sec of state Blinken speaks with senior Chinese official over cancelled visit

US secretary of state Antony Blinken has spoken with a senior Chinese official about his postponed trip to the country.

US officials said Mr Blinken spoke to the Director of the Central Foreign Affairs Office Wang Yi today postponing the planned visit.

But the secretary of state “indicated he would plan to travel” to China “at the earliest opportunity when conditions allow”.

Officials also said they “noted” China’s statement of regret but said “the presence of this balloon in our airspace is a clear violation of our sovereignty, as well as international law, and it is unacceptable that this has occurred”.

The diplomatic wrangling comes after a Chinese surveillance balloon has been tracked by US intelligence in recent days.

In a press conference today, the US defence department has said the Chinese spy balloon is heading eastwards but poses “no physical or military threat” to civilians.

The Pentagon’s press secretary would not confirm the current location of the balloon, which is operating at around 60,000ft.

There is also no evidence of any nuclear or radioactive material on board but it has the ability to be manoeuvred, according to Brigadier General Pat Ryder.

The spy balloon's route from China over the Aleutian Islands, through Canada and into Montana
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The spy balloon’s route from China over the Aleutian Islands, through Canada and into Montana

Watch:
Future Wars: Could there ever be a conflict between the US and China?

He also rejected Chinese claims that the balloon was in fact a “civilian airship” that had strayed into American airspace.

The US authorities said it now knows the object – spotted over Billings, Montana, on Wednesday, close to one of the US’s three nuclear missile silo fields at Malmstrom Air Force Base – was a Chinese balloon flying over sensitive sites to collect information.

A map showing where the balloon was spotted and the US's Malmstrom Air Force Base
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A map showing where the balloon was spotted and the US’s Malmstrom Air Force Base

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponed a high-profile visit to China which had been due to begin on Sunday.

Senior state department officials described the incident as a “clear violation of US sovereignty and international law” and said conditions were “not right at this moment” for Mr Blinken to travel.

Mr Blinken was prepared to depart for China tonight before the trip was postponed, Sky News understands.

He plans to travel “when conditions allow”, according to officials.

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Pentagon spokesman said that suspected Chinese spy balloon flying over the US has ‘violated international law’, adding that it doesn’t pose any physical threat for people on the ground.

The Foreign Ministry in Beijing admitted the balloon had come from China – but said it was for meteorological and other scientific research.

The Pentagon spokesperson said it is “monitoring the situation closely and will continue to review options”.

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What are spy balloons?

China responds to claims by the US that it has identified a Chinese 'surveillance balloon' over Montana
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China responds to claims by the US that it has identified a Chinese ‘surveillance balloon’ over Montana

The balloon will probably remain over the US for a few days, the spokesperson added.

US officials also confirmed military intelligence had previously seen similar surveillance balloons elsewhere.

The object is believed to have flown over the Aleutian Islands, off the coast of Alaska, and through Canada before entering the US.

Military and defence leaders had considered shooting the balloon out of the sky but decided against it due to the safety risk from falling debris.

US defence secretary Lloyd Austin convened a meeting of senior military and defence leaders to review the threat profile of the balloon and possible responses, which were presented to US President Joe Biden on Wednesday.

President Biden, speaking at a White House conference about jobs earlier today, refused to answer questions on the topic.

The US has engaged Chinese officials “with urgency” and communicated the seriousness of the situation.

China and the US have experienced tensions of late, clashing over Taiwan and China’s human rights record and its military activity in the South China Sea.

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Paris Olympics: UK to host summit in bid to ban Russia from games

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Paris Olympics: UK to host summit in bid to ban Russia from games

Opposition to Russians being allowed to compete at next year’s Paris Olympics is intensifying, as the UK government prepares to convene talks with more than 30 countries.

The summit is due to be held next Friday 10 February.

The International Olympic Committee is facing dissent over its willingness to allow athletes from Russia to compete as neutrals in Paris next year in defiance of pleas from Ukraine, following Vladimir Putin’s invasion.

Ukraine war – latest updates

Ukrainian Olympic officials decided on Friday to consult on a possible boycott of the Olympics and an outright ban on Russian athletes – a stance supported by the leaders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania which border Russia and gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Lithuania’s sports minister Jurgita Siugzdiniene told Sky News that her British counterpart has organised a virtual meeting next Friday involving more than 30 countries on excluding athletes from Russia and Belarus from the Olympics.

As well as European governments, officials from Canada, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea are among the global participants in the meeting. Poland has said it would be possible to build a coalition of about 40 countries, including the US, Britain and Canada.

“We should do everything [so] Russian and Belarusian athletes would not participate in the Olympics, and even under the veil of neutrality,” Ms Siugzdiniene said.

“That’s what we should agree and that is very important. And so in that way we wouldn’t need to discuss the boycott.”

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Who is winning the war in Ukraine?

The IOC announced last week that it was open to athletes from Russia and Belarus – which has been used as a staging post for the invasion of Ukraine – competing as neutrals in Paris if they have not actively supported the war.

“I see it as an effort to legitimise and distract attention from Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine,” Ms Siugzdiniene said.

“I think they can use this as a platform. So it would be very wrong that we would provide this opportunity for them.”

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In the last three summer and winter Olympics between 2018 and 2022, Russian athletes have been prevented from competing with the national flag or anthem as punishment for the country’s state-sponsored doping scheme.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said any neutral flag for Russia in Paris would be “stained with blood”.

At Friday’s meeting, Ukraine’s sports minister and president of the country’s Olympic committee Vadym Hutzait said members were united “against allowing sportspeople from Russia and Belarus from competing”.

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‘Russia will respond to Western arms supplies’

In an appeal to sporting authorities, he said: “As long as the war is going on, as long as our motherland is being bombed, as long as we are fighting for freedom and independence, we have a great wish not to see them [Russians and Belarusians].

“There is a discussion on the international level and we have already some countries supporting us.”

He added: “The price of Ukrainians’ lives is of the highest value. We have no right for compromise … when our Ukrainians are dying.”

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Johnson tells the West: ‘Give Ukraine planes’

The IOC wants sports federations to allow any Russians or Belarusians who have not been “actively supporting the war in Ukraine” to take part and argues it would be discriminatory to ban athletes based on their citizenship alone.

It has responded to the comparison with Apartheid-era South Africa being excluded from the Olympics for more than 20 years, pointing out that UN sanctions were in place at the time.

“There are no UN sanctions in place against Russia and Belarus at this moment in time,” the IOC said.

But Russia, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, can veto any proposed resolution.

Government pressure on athletes and sports bodies should also be resisted, the IOC said, adding its stated mission is “to unite the entire world in a peaceful competition”.

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