MPs are refusing to allow Mike Ashley to get away with the contempt he is holding parliament in.
Whilst fans of both Newcastle United and Rangers are suffering under his influence, as well as over 90% of his staff on zero hours contracts, Ashley is finding it harder to shake off the tricky subject of accountability and democracy.
So far, Mike Ashley has simply batted back requests by the Scottish affairs committee to get him to appear before them to explain the overwhelming use of zero hours contracts, plus the200 job losses after the sudden closure of the Ayrshire warehouse of USC, a fashion retailer owned by Sports Direct.
However, now the Scottish affairs committee have pushed the issue further and made public their latest letter to Ashley’s advisers, asking him to elaborate on what the ‘immovable commitments’ are that are preventing him appearing before the parliamentary committee throughout the entire month of March.
The letter reads:
“Please provide, without further delay, the information that the committee has asked for on what immovable commitments Mr Ashley has throughout the entirety of March which are preventing him from appearing before the committee.”
The MPs made public that correspondence with Sports Direct, plus Mike Ashley’s lawyers’ threat of legal action, in relation to the publication of earlier letters in which the Newcastle United owner made his ‘excuses’.
Ashley’s representatives writing:
“We can see no basis on which you were entitled to publish any of that confidential correspondence without [Sports Direct’s] consent. The fact that you have done so is considered likely to amount to a breach of our client’s confidence as a matter of law and we fully reserve all of [Sports Direct’s] legal rights.”
The MPs have said that they are entitled to publish the correspondence because it forms part of the proceedings, which are then covered by parliamentary privilege and therefore have legal immunity.
It is very unusual for business leaders to refuse a request to appear before a select committee. MPs do have power to formally summon those who refuse to give evidence but there was only limited time available ahead of the upcoming election.
If Mike Ashley continues to make his feeble excuses as to why he shouldn’t voluntarily justify how he treats his staff, then fingers crossed that when the new parliament is formed, the new/re-elected MPs don’t let the matter drop.
Amusingly, Mike Ashley has claimed that the MPs have violated his ‘human rights’ under the European Convention, because the letters made public were marked ‘confidential’.
Considering how he treats the fans of Rangers and Newcastle United and especially most of the tens of thousands of workers he employs, he does indeed have cheek for anything.