Boris Johnson accused of orchestrating Greensill ‘cover-up’ | Greensill

Boris Johnson has been accused of orchestrating a cover-up over the Greensill lobbying scandal after an official review issued a mild rebuke of David Cameron whilst criticising a deceased senior civil servant.

A report drawn up by the City solicitor Nigel Boardman has also praised lobbying as part of a functioning democracy after admitting that the businessman Lex Greensill was given “extraordinarily privileged” access to Downing Street.

The former prime minister David Cameron and the late cabinet secretary Jeremy Heywood have been criticised in the 141-page review drawn up by the City solicitor Nigel Boardman.

Cameron “understated” the nature of his relationship with Greensill when lobbying officials and “could have been clearer” about his work for the the Australian financier, the report said.

It claims a covering memo to the prime minister in 2012 pointed to Lord Heywood as the person primarily responsible for Greensill being given a role in government.

But Boardman’s review has defended existing lobbying rules, saying that while there are improvements to be made, “the current system and those operating within it worked well”.

“Engagement between government and a wide range of interested parties, which many refer to as ‘lobbying’, is vital to the proper functioning of democracy,” Boardman said.

Quick Guide

What is the Greensill lobbying scandal?

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What is Greensill Capital?

Set up by the Australian financier Lex Greensill, the firm specialises in supply-chain finance, which settles business bills immediately for a fee, assisting with the issue of late payments. Greensill began working with the NHS as part of Citibank in 2012, but then set up his own firm. This collapsed in March.

How is David Cameron involved and what did he do?

Cameron was prime minister when Greensill started to seek government work, although the Australian was reportedly first brought in by Jeremy Heywood, who was cabinet secretary at the time. But in 2016, after leaving office, Cameron became an adviser to Greensill Capital. He was given share options reportedly worth tens of millions of pounds.

Last year he sent “multiple” texts to Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, and “informally” phoned two other Treasury ministers, asking for Greensill Capital to get the largest possible allocation of government-backed loans under the Covid corporate financing facility, or CCFF. He also lobbied a No 10 aide, and in 2019 took Greensill to a “private drink” with Matt Hancock, the health secretary.

What was the government response?

Text replies from Sunak in 2019, released after a freedom of information request, show that in April last year the chancellor told Cameron he had “pushed the team” in the Treasury to see if he could arrange full access to CCFF loans. Other released documents show Treasury officials had a series of meetings with Greensill Capital but eventually refused it access to the CCFF. The company was later accredited to the coronavirus large business interruption loan scheme (CLBILS), handing it the ability to offer government-backed loans of up to £50m.

What else happened?

Greensill became so embedded within Cameron’s Downing Street; he had a No 10 business card calling him a “senior adviser” and was nominated by Haywood for a CBE.

The government’s chief commercial officer, Bill Crothers, began working as an adviser to Greensill Capital in 2015 – while still employed in the civil service. Remarkably, he was given official approval to do this. Boris Johnson has declined to rule out the possibility that more officials could have been connected to the company.

What are the concerns?

There are questions over why the government, which does not have cashflow problems, needed to use supply chain finance.

Cameron’s role is under particular scrutiny. He appears to have used personal contacts to seek preferential treatment for a company in which he had a financial stake.

Sunak’s pledge that he had “pushed the team” to help also raised eyebrows.

Finally, the dual role of Crothers has prompted new worries about a revolving door between Whitehall and private companies that then benefit from government contracts.

Peter Walker Political correspondent

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The report has shied away from criticising serving ministers and advisers who were lobbied by Greensill and Cameron, prompting strong condemnation from Labour. Angela Rayner, the party’s deputy leader, said the report had been set up as “a classic Boris Johnson cover-up and whitewash to protect the government”.

Boardman, 70, was appointed in April to run an independent investigation into government contracts and lobbying involving a number of senior Conservative politicians including Cameron, the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, the MP and former health secretary Matt Hancock and the peer Francis Maude.

The supply chain financier Greensill was given access to Downing Street when Cameron was the prime minister and Heywood was the cabinet secretary. After leaving government, Cameron became an adviser to Greensill Capital and lobbied ministers including Sunak for access to government-backed loans.

The report, totalling 141 pages, says: “It is clear from the evidence that I have reviewed that Mr Greensill had a privileged – and sometimes extraordinarily privileged – relationship with government.”

Boardman concludes that Cameron “could have been clearer about his relationship with Greensill Capital” in his communications with the Treasury, the Bank of England and officials.

Cameron told Boardman that Greensill Capital was paying him “a good amount of money every year” and he had equity and participated in a discretionary uncapped bonus scheme.

Jeremy Heywood: the late cabinet secretary has been criticised in the 141-page Greensill inquiry report. Photograph: Alan Davidson/Shutterstock

Boardman concludes that the former Conservative Party leader “did not breach the current lobbying rules and his actions were not unlawful”, neither does the evidence appear to show he had a role in bringing Greensill into government.

The review also sheds new light on meetings involving Cameron and Hancock that took place in October 2019.

Hancock told Boardman that he had not expected other Greensill employees to be there and had thought he was just meeting Cameron. Cameron said that Hancock did know beforehand that he would be accompanied by colleagues including Greensill himself.

According to an email sent by Cameron to Hancock that was released to the review, Hancock was impressed by Greensill’s proposal to allow NHS workers to draw down on their salary early through an app.

The review claims that Heywood was “primarily responsible” for Greensill securing a role in government, during Cameron’s premiership.

There was mention of Greensill’s appointment to the Cabinet Office’s economic and domestic secretariat being referred to an “approvals board”, to which Heywood, who worked with the financier at Morgan Stanley, responded: “Sure – though it is bureaucracy gone mad!”

The review said Greensill was given official IT and security access for the Cabinet Office and, withHeywood’s support, for No 10.

The role in government provided Greensill “with a marketing platform for Greensill Capital’s business with the private sector”.

“It is unclear why Mr Greensill was permitted to remain an adviser to government on supply chain finance under these circumstances,” Boardman wrote.

Critics have claimed that Boardman should not have been in charge of the inquiry because of his close relationship with the government and the Conservative party – he has been a non-executive director at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and is a former Tory party candidate.

Reacting to the report, Suzanne Heywood, the widow of Lord Heywood of Whitehall, said the report was flawed, not least because no one was allowed to speak on her husband’s behalf.

“The conclusions of this review are a convenient diversion from the embarrassment the collapse of Greensill Capital continues to cause this government.

“Boardman has run a deeply flawed process from beginning to end, gagging representation for my late husband to facilitate his scapegoating, glossing over the ministerial approval of Francis Maude and the then government for Mr Greensill’s appointment,” she said.

Rayner said the terms of the inquiry had been limited to avoid a wider investigation of lobbying, privileged access and the revolving door between Whitehall and business.

“The rules that are supposed to regulate lobbying are completely unfit for purpose and require radical and immediate overhaul,” she said.

In April, Cameron accepted that he should have communicated with the government “through only the most formal of channels” rather than text messages to Sunak as he acknowledged missteps over the controversy.

Responding to the report, Cameron said he was “pleased that the report provides further confirmation that I broke no rules”.

“I have said all along that there are lessons to be learnt, and I agree on the need for more formal lines of communication.”




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