The Conservatives were accused of tolerating a “sleazy culture” today as they were ordered to vote down a parliamentary inquiry into the Greensill Capital lobbying fallout.
Labour has been pushing for a broader inquiry into lobbying than the one set out by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, as a senior civil servant became embroiled in the row.
“If there was greater transparency… I think things would be very different. I don’t think you would have this sort-of sleazy culture being allowed to develop. That’s why we need tougher rules,” shadow cabinet minister Rachel Reeves told Times Radio.
Here are the most high-profile people involved.
The Australian founded the financial services company Greensill Capital in 2011. The firm specialised in supply chain finance, offering short-term loans to enable companies to pay their bills more quickly. It was the main financial backer of Liberty Steel, which employs about 5,000 people across the UK. The collapse of Greensill in March has potentially put those jobs in danger.
Greensill has been described as a senior advisor to David Cameron when he was in Downing Street, but the former PM has claimed: “I met him twice at most in the entirety of my time as prime minister.”
Nevertheless, it was during this time that he was “instrumental in setting up a payment scheme for pharmacies that was based on his firm’s ‘supply chain finance’ model”, says Sky News. “Greensill Capital began providing funding to pharmacies through this scheme in 2018.”
The former prime minister became a part-time senior advisor for Greensill Capital in August 2018, more than two years after he left Downing Street.
When the pandemic hit, he lobbied a number of government ministers including the chancellor using personal text messages and emails in a bid to secure Greensill access to a loan scheme called the Covid Corporate Financing Facility (CCFF). The firm was rejected for the scheme but was allowed to issue loans under a different programme called the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CLBILS).
Although Cameron has been cleared of any wrongdoing by the Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists, Labour is keen to highlight the lack of transparency in the system itself. Reeves told Times Radio: “It just feels so sleazy, so un-transparent. It feels like if you have the number of the Chancellor, which most of us don’t have, you get access to millions of pounds for the businesses you are lobbying for.”
However, Boris Johnson has vowed that lawyer Nigel Boardman will be given “carte blanche to ask anybody whatever he needs” in his review of the Greensill activities.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak, like all the others caught up in the row, has denied any wrongdoing. One email from Cameron to a Downing Street advisor, published by The Sunday Times, said: “What we need is for Rishi (Sunak) to have a good look at this and ask officials to find a way of making it work.”
The former PM said it was “nuts” to exclude Greensill from the Covid scheme. According to texts published by the Treasury, Sunak replied, saying: “I have pushed the team to explore an alternative”.
It has also emerged that Health Secretary Matt Hancock went for private drinks with Cameron and Greensill in 2019 to discuss an app that was later offered within the NHS.
The app, called Earnd, was designed to pay medical staff either daily or weekly in advance of their normal wage. An ally of Hancock told the BBC he had “acted in entirely the correct way” and “updated officials on the business that was discussed, as is appropriate”.
The Civil Service’s former chief procurement officer is the latest person tied to the drama after it emerged that he had joined Greensill as a part-time adviser in September 2015, two months before leaving Whitehall, reports the Financial Times.
That appointment was approved by the Cabinet Office under its “internal conflicts of interest policy”, according to Crothers, who said he had not promoted Greensill “for any public sector business for more than two years after leaving the Civil Service”.