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Palantir won £27m government deal after intro by ex-MI6 boss

Karp and Manzoni discussed Palantir’s strategy and its “plan for UK public sector growth”.

Notes from the meeting say: “Palantir is best known for their work in the security and intelligence space (with well-established relationships in both the UK and US) but are looking to diversify their public sector work in the health and fraud spaces.”

A month later, Palantir met with Michael Gove, who was then a Cabinet Office minister. Ahead of the meeting, the firm told the department: “Preparations for Brexit may require… risk-based monitoring for the movement of goods and people across the UK border” and said it could provide “capabilities to manage the fast-evolving and unpredictable environment”.

In August 2020 – one year after Manzoni first met Karp – the Cabinet Office handed Palantir a £27m deal to process border and customs data after Britain left the EU.

Land and expand

Before the Brexit borders deal was signed, Palantir provided a “free trial” of its Foundry software.

A spokesperson for the firm said there is “nothing unusual in a business offering a prospective customer the opportunity to trial before purchase”. But critics have suggested this tactic was part of a “land and expand” strategy.

Cori Crider, the director of Foxglove Legal, told openDemocracy: “It’s amazing how often with this government winning big-money contracts is just about having the right friends. And let’s face it, the ex-head of MI6 is a hell of a lobbyist to have in your corner.

“Palantir’s lobbying campaign – and their ‘land and expand’ strategy of offering free trials or £1 contracts and jacking up the prices later – seems to have worked.”

Palantir used a similar approach to enter the health service: initially billing just £1 to build the Covid-19 datastore before winning further deals worth more than £60m.

Crider described the NHS as the “plum prize” for Palantir. She said: “Any day now we expect Palantir to be announced the winner of a colossal £480m contract to manage the biggest single access point to patient data the UK has ever seen.”

Tory MP David Davis said that “directly awarding contracts to Palantir without competition – or indeed proper public oversight – is a recipe for disaster. That practice must stop”.

Davis told openDemocracy: “With Palantir now wanting a central role in our health service, we must be extraordinarily careful about awarding any such contract.”

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