Row over UK lobbying rules amid ex-PM David Cameron probe

Aditi Khanna
·3-min read

London, Apr 14 (PTI) Britain's Opposition Labour Party on Wednesday accused the ruling Conservative Party of “sleaze” as it demanded a full parliamentary inquiry into the extent of lobbying involving former prime minister David Cameron on behalf of collapsed bank Greensill Capital.

The row escalated this week after it emerged earlier that Cameron, who was employed at Greensill, had intervened on behalf of the embattled financial institution with text messages to UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak. While Sunak released the two messages he had sent Cameron in reply in an attempt at transparency, further revelations emerged of interactions with other ministers and a former civil servant being associated with Greensill as a part-time adviser while still in the civil service ranks.

The row led to Prime Minister Boris Johnson announcing an independent investigation into the entire affair, but the Opposition wants the probe to go much further.

'I know the Prime minister is launching an inquiry. That inquiry isn't even looking at the lobbying rules,” Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer told MPs in the House of Commons on Wednesday.

'I'm not sure it's looking at very much at all, because every day there's further evidence of the sleaze that's now at the heart of this Conservative government,' he said.

Cameron has insisted he did not break any codes of conduct or rules on lobbying, although he has acknowledged that he should have communicated with the government 'through only the most formal of channels'.

Johnson, who has tried to keep a distance from ex-PM Cameron over the matter, insisted that the inquiry headed by lawyer Nigel Boardman will be a review of the lobbying process in the UK.

'I indeed share the widespread concern about some of the stuff that we're reading at the moment and I know that the Cabinet Secretary shares my concern as well,” said Johnson.

'I do think it is a good idea in principle that top civil servants should be able to engage with business and should have experience of the private sector. When I look at the accounts I'm reading to date, it's not clear that those boundaries had been properly understood and I've asked for a proper independent review of the arrangements that we have to be conducted by Nigel Boardman and he will be reporting in June,' he said.

The collapse of Greensill Capital last month triggered a series of controversies, including leaving British Indian businessman Sanjeev Gupta led Liberty Steel on the brink with thousands of jobs in the balance due to its reliance on the commercial lender.

While Gupta admitted that the insolvency of Greensill Capital was a “shock to the system”, he has insisted his GFG (Gupta Family Group) Alliance business empire had already been in the process of switching away from Greensill as a source of financing and is in the process of securing finance for its steel business.

This has continued to play out as calls to examine lobbying and the relationship between civil servants, politicians and private firms intensified in the past week, including the latest revelation that Bill Crothers, a former government chief procurement officer, was employed as a part-time adviser to Greensill in 2015 whilst still working as a civil servant. Crothers later went on to become a director at the firm.

While the part-time position is said to have been agreed to by the Cabinet Office and the former civil servant said he had been taken on in a 'transparent' way, Johnson admitted it was not clear if the 'boundaries' had been 'clearly understood'.

The founder of the bank at the heart of the controversy, Australian financier Lex Greensill, who worked as an unpaid government adviser during Cameron's early years in Downing Street as PM, has not commented on the row. PTI AK PMS PMS