politics

Labour to pile pressure on Boris Johnson to agree to full-scale lobbying inquiry


Labour will today pile pressure on Boris Johnson to agree to a full-scale committee inquiry into the Greensill lobbying affair in a Commons showdown this afternoon.

MPs blasted Boris Johnson’s plan for a “whitewash” No10 review of the scandal, saying the government can’t be trusted to “mark its own homework.”

The opposition will force a vote to establish a committee-style probe with the power to ask witnesses – including Mr Cameron, the Chancellor and other ministers – to give evidence.

Mr Johnson yesterday insisted his planned review of the scandal, to be led by top Lawyer Nigel Boardman, would have the “maximum possible access”.

He said Mr Boardman had been given “pretty much carte blanche to ask anybody whatever he needs to find out.”

The Prime Minister added: “I would like it to be done quickly, but I want him to have the maximum possible access so we can all understand exactly what has happened, and that will of course be presented to Parliament in due course.”

But speaking in a Commons debate in response to an Urgent Question on the affair, Labour’s Jon Trickett told MPs: “It sounds like a whitewash to me.”



The PM's plan for an internal probe has been branded a "whitewash"
The PM’s plan for an internal probe has been branded a “whitewash”

And Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said: “The Tories can’t be trusted to mark their own homework after handing billions in taxpayers’ money to their donors, mates and cronies.”

The government was last night at the centre of the worst sleaze scandal to hit the Tories in almost a decade.

David Cameron, now a lobbyist for failed bank Greensill Capital, faced fresh questions as it emerged one of his top officials began advising the firm while still working for the government.

In recent days a string of reports revealed cosy meetings and informal text messages between Mr Cameron and senior government officials, urging them to give Greensill access to government contracts and Covid cash.

Ahead of today’s vote, Labour said it was an “extraordinary and shocking revelation”.

And MPs accused ministers of favouring friends and cronies over struggling firms across the country.

“I’ve written to ministers on behalf of businesses …and waited for months for a reply, when a business was on the brink,” Chesterfield MP Toby Perkins said.

“Yet Greensill get ten meetings in three months with Treasury officials?”

Greensill was given access to a Covid loan scheme for businesses which put hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money at risk.

The firm later collapsed into administration but not before former prime minister David Cameron unsuccessfully lobbied ministers on its behalf in a bid to ask for Treasury support for the bank.

Mr Cameron sent a number of texts to Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s private phone when bidding for Government support for Greensill.

And the former Tory leader had arranged a “private drink” between Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Australian financier Lex Greensill to discuss a payment scheme later rolled out in the NHS.

Mr Hancock admitted to MPs he “attended a social meeting” organised by his former boss that he had “reported to officials in the normal way”.

Mr Cameron also emailed a senior Downing Street adviser, pressing for a rethink on Mr Greensill’s application for access to emergency funding.

And newly published papers reveal Bill Crothers, who was Whitehall’s Head of Procurement under Mr Cameron, began advising Greensill while he was still a civil servant.

The Cabinet Office gave him permission to take the job in September 2015, two months before he left his role in Government.

Mr Cameron joined Greensill later, in August 2018 – two years after he stepped down as Prime Minister.

But in a bizarre loophole, Mr Crothers didn’t have to apply for permission from Whitehall’s “revolving door” regulator the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA).

Usually top officials and Ministers are barred from taking jobs in firms where they could profit from their government experience and contacts for two years after leaving office.

But the Cabinet Office said because he had already started working for Greensill part time before quitting as a civil servant, the rule didn’t apply to him.

In reply to a letter from Tory Peer Lord Pickles, who chairs ACOBA, a Cabinet Office official said: “As he was already working in an advisory capacity to Greensill before he left the Civil Service, with this role captured under the conflicts of interest policy, no (Business Appointments Rules) application was required to be submitted to ACOBA at this time.”

Mr Crothers defended the role in a further letter to ACOBA – and hinted there were more officials who had used the same loophole.

He wrote: “It was seen as a way of me transitioning back into the private sector and was supported by the Cabinet Office leadership.

“This advisory role was not seen as contentious, and I believe not uncommon. I then left the civil service in good stead and with best wishes.”

He added: “I did not promote Greensill Capital for any public sector business for more than two years after leaving the Civil Service”

Mr Cameron finally broke his silence at the weekend with a statement in which he insisted he had not broken any rules, but accepted there were “lessons to be learned”.

And yesterday in the Commons, Business Minister Paul Scully argued the Chancellor had provided a “comprehensive response” to questioning on the Greensill matter.

He said: “The Government recognises the interest in the matter and it is right that we now let that investigation, that review happen and do its work.

“But in line with the approach and the interest of transparency, as I say, the Chancellor has provided all of the message(s) that were sent from him to David Cameron on this matter and they relate exclusively to Greensill’s proposals for the Covid Corporate Finance Facility.”





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