Sunday, October 17News That Matters

Cameron ‘did absolutely nothing wrong’ over links with financial services firm – minister

It is time to “move on” from a row over David Cameron’s dealings with a financial services company, a minister has told Sky News.

“I think people have looked at this. As far as I know, David Cameron did absolutely nothing wrong,” Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said when asked about the former prime minister’s links to Greensill Capital.

He added: “People have looked into his role, people looked into the fact that he may or may not have contacted people, officials in the Treasury.

“As far as I know, everything was above board, he’s been largely exonerated and I think we should just move on.”

File photo dated 5/10/2019 of David Cameron. Labour has called for an inquiry into reports Cameron lobbied Rishi Sunak to grant millions of pounds in loans to a finance company he was advising. Issue date: Sunday March 21, 2021.
Image: A watchdog has said Mr Cameron did not break his own lobbying rules in trying to secure help for the firm

A watchdog said last week that Mr Cameron, who was in Downing Street from 2010 to 2016, did not break his own lobbying rules in trying to secure government help for the firm.

As well as seeking funds from a government-backed COVID loans scheme, Mr Cameron is also alleged to have approached the Bank of England about the firm, which collapsed earlier this month.

Reports that Mr Cameron sent a number of texts to Chancellor Rishi Sunak‘s private phone asking for support for Greensill Capital were investigated by Harry Rich, the Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists.

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That post was set up in legislation passed by Mr Cameron’s own government in 2014.

But, as an employee of Greensill, which has since gone into administration, he was not required to declare himself on the register of consultant lobbyists, Mr Rich concluded.

However, Labour is now calling for the standards watchdog to look into government links to Greensill.

The party wants the Committee on Standards in Public Life to launch an investigation.

“What’s happening with Greensill gets murkier by the day and I think it’s obvious that there’s got to be an inquiry,” party leader Sir Keir Starmer said on Tuesday.

“There are too many unanswered questions.”

It comes after a Sunday Times investigation alleged that founder Lex Greensill enriched himself through a government-supported loan scheme that he designed after Mr Cameron gave him access to 11 departments and agencies.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer during a visit to Terminal 2 at Heathrow Airport, London, to see the COVID-19 response. Picture date: Thursday February 11, 2020. See PA story POLITICS Labour.
Image: ‘What’s happening with Greensill gets murkier by the day,’ Sir Keir Starmer said

The newspaper reported that the Australian financier was given access to departments while Mr Cameron was PM so he could promote a financial product he specialised in.

The Pharmacy Early Payment Scheme saw banks quickly pay back pharmacists for providing NHS prescriptions, for a fee, before getting the cash back from the government.

Greensill Capital provided funds for the scheme.

The Sunday Times said Mr Greensill could not be reached for comment, but reported he was understood to deny making large sums from a pharmacy deal.

Sky News has approached Greensill Capital for a comment through its administrators on a number of occasions, but has yet to receive a response.

Mr Sunak wants workers to return to offices
Image: There were reports Mr Cameron sent a number of texts to Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s private phone asking for support for Greensill

A government spokesman said: “Lex Greensill acted as a supply chain finance adviser from 2012 to 2015 and as a crown representative for three years from 2013.

“His appointment was approved in the normal manner and he was not paid for either role.”

Sky News has approached Mr Cameron’s office for a comment since the reports around Greensill Capital emerged, but has not had a response.

Lord Evans, chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said in response to Labour’s letter that it is an advisory body and “does not have a remit to investigate individual cases”.

However, he added that the committee was currently looking into arrangements surrounding transparency and public appointments and would welcome submissions from the party on the matter.

David Cameron addressing the Open Government Partnership summit in 2013
Image: David Cameron stood down as PM after the Brexit referendum

Giving his take on the row, Sir Alistair Graham, a former chair of the committee, told Sky News: “Mr Cameron, I think, was cleared very much on a technicality of having been an in-house employee rather than an independent lobbyist.

“But he was the one who identified that lobbying was likely to be the next major scandal and here we find him, in effect, lobbying to help Greensill Capital achieve loans from the British government.

“It appears, although I don’t know obviously the detail, that also this company had very privileged access to Treasury and government departments in a way I don’t think is acceptable.”

Referring to the allegations contained in the Sunday Times, he said: “It’s really rather shocking that an ex-prime minister has set this in train.”

And Sir Alistair added: “I have an unease about what seems to be an expectation by former cabinet ministers, former prime ministers, feeling that it’s almost part of their pension arrangements that they should be able to have key positions in the private sector, paid a large amount of money and be able, because they’ve got passes to the House of Commons, still have some privileged access to government.”

The Liberty Steel flag flies over the steel plant in Dalzell, Scotland (file pic)
Image: Greensill Capital’s collapse has raised questions about the future of Liberty Steel

The collapse of Greensill Capital has also raised questions about Liberty Steel, which employs 5,000 people in the UK.

Its parent company is seeking new funding to fill the hole left by the demise of Greensill.

Sky News reported on Friday that GFG Alliance, owned by Sanjeev Gupta, had gone cap in hand to the government for a bailout of up to £170m after its main source of cash went bust.

The government has said it is continuing to talk to Liberty Steel.

Sir Keir said ministers should do “whatever it takes” to save firm.