Boris Johnson hoped this would be a week of dignified silence while Westminster marked Prince Philip ’s death.
But instead this week’s vacuum of government communications has been filled with scandal and “sleaze” over private lobbying.
The row had been rumbling for weeks over David Cameron’s private texts to ministers on behalf of scandal-hit Greensill Capital.
It was given new legs, however, on Sunday night when the ex-Prime Minister issued a statement insisting he broke no rules.
Six inquiries have been launched as questions are asked about a wider culture of influence – and whether the rules must change.
Lord Pickles, chair of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, yesterday told MPs he was “really unhappy” with existing rules and had been “warning of the possibility of a scandal” for some time.
And he said there did not appear to be “any boundaries at all” between civil servants and the private sector.
He said: “Increasingly we’re seeing a murkier and murkier picture, whether it’s the way contracts are handed out, the lack of due process, or the lobbying, which is not a revolving door but now an open door into Government.”
Boris Johnson told reporters yesterday: “I think the most important thing is for us to get to the bottom of it properly.”
Stories of lobbying are complicated and this week’s flurry of revelations is not immediately easy to piece together.
So here are eight developments in the story this week which show it’s gone beyond matters involving David Cameron alone.
David Cameron and ministers now face six inquiries into the Greensill affair.
They include a lawyer-led probe ordered by Boris Johnson, a Whitehall review by Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, and a broader review by the Committee on Standards in Public Life.
MPs on the Treasury, Public Accounts, and Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committees are all investigating too.
It’s an embarrassing result for Boris Johnson, who only on Wednesday got his MPs to vote down a bid for a committee of inquiry.
David Cameron has agreed to cooperate with inquiries while Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who he texted last Spring, is also tipped to be summoned to give evidence to MPs.
Bill Crothers revelations
Fallout spilled over into Whitehall as it emerged an impartial civil servant worked for Greensill – while still on the Government payroll.
Bill Crothers, an ex-Government chief commercial officer, began a part-time role at Greensill in September 2015 – with Cabinet Office approval – despite not leaving his civil service role until November that year.
Former Home Office permanent secretary Sir David Normington was “absolutely amazed” by the revelations.
“I thought it was absolutely baffling. I’ve never come across anything like it in my over 40 years in Whitehall,” he told the BBC.
Last night, Mr Crothers was found to have broken ACOBA rules by failing to declare a separate unpaid role in 2016.
Lord Pickles wrote to Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove to alert him to the breach and ask him to take “appropriate action”.
In a letter to ACOBA, Mr Crothers apologised for the “honest mistake” in failing to notify the watchdog about his position on the Global Board of Trustees of the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply from 2016 to 2018.
Watchdog chief Lord Pickles said Mr Crothers’ case was not an isolated incident, but it was unusual for such a senior civil servant to have a second job with such a prominent firm.
“I mean, if Mr Crothers had decided he wanted to have a milk round or something, I don’t think we would be terribly worried,” he said.
Hunt for second jobs across Whitehall
Civil service boss Simon Case has launched his own hunt for moonlighting civil servants across Whitehall.
In a furious letter, he demanded all senior mandarins declare any second jobs outside Government by today.
It comes amid “acute concern” at the top of Government over the row – and the fear far more cases could be uncovered.
Lord Pickles has told MPs ACOBA scrutinised just 108 appointments out of 34,000 people quitting the civil service last year.
Private messages with Saudi Prince
The row rebounded on Boris Johnson personally, after No10 admitted he asked for a progress check on a Saudi bid to buy Newcastle United.
According to the Daily Mail, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman messaged the PM, warning him the row over the sale of the Premier League club could damage diplomatic relations.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “This was a commercial matter for the parties concerned and the government was not involved at any point in the takeover talks.
But when pressed, the spokesman added: “The PM asked [top aide] Lord Lister to check on the progress of the talks as a potential major foreign investment in the UK – he didn’t ask him to intervene.”
The spokesman also refused to say whether the PM exchanges WhatsApp messages with the Crown Prince – as they’d be “private”.
Questions over inquiry chief’s impartiality…
The first big review to be set up into the Greensill affair was ordered by Boris Johnson and will be led by lawyer Nigel Boardman.
But Labour launched a personal attack on the “very good friend of the Tory government” and accused him of “whitewashing” a previous review into government contracts during the pandemic.
Shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves pointed the finger at Mr Boardman, the son of a Tory peer and a director at the Business Department.
And she said Slaughter and May, which has employed Mr Boardman since 1973, “made £8m advising Carillon – including £1m on the day before the outsourcer’s collapse”, which left a “terrible taste in my mouth”.
Defending Mr Boardman, Downing Street hailed his “expertise in his career, and the fact he’s a respected legal expert”.
Asked if he was “a friend of the Conservative Government”, the spokesman said: “He is an independent reviewer.”
The Mirror could not reach Mr Boardman – whose government work has been “paused” while he leads the inquiry – for comment.
… And over members of the sleaze watchdog itself
It also emerged that ACOBA member Andrew Cumpsty runs his own lobbying firm Cumpsty Communications.
The Mirror previously revealed that Mr Cumpsty chaired and founded the Enterprise Forum, which acts as a link between businesses and the Conservative Party.
Lord Pickles defended Mr Cumpsty’s appointment, saying his nomination was a ministerial decision that he supported.
“I think it was sensible to get someone with experience. He has proved very useful on these issues,” he added.
But last night, OpenDemocracy revealed that Lord Pickles himself had only made limited declarations of his own presidency of the Enterprise Forum.
He did not mention the role in a pre-appointment hearing with MPs, and said there was no conflict of interest.
ACOBA said Lord Pickles declared the role during a separate interview for the job. It’s also in his register of interests.
Questions for No10’s deputy chief of staff
Meanwhile, questions are mounting for other senior figures, including No10 deputy chief of staff Simone Finn.
She reportedly owned a stake in a company advising governments, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kazakhstan.
She resigned her directorship of the firm, founded by ex-minister Francis Maude, when she started work in Downing Street.
A Government spokesperson told The Times: “Baroness Finn has declared all her relevant interests to the House of Lords, and in addition, complied with the Cabinet Office requirements for special advisers to declare outside interests.
“The Cabinet Office has a formal process to avoid conflicts of interest arising from such declared interests.”
Lobbyists ‘free to roam’ Parliament
Dozens of lobbyists and members of special interest groups are free to roam the Houses of Parliament after being handed passes by members of the House of Lords, the Mirror revealed.
Campaigners warned the Mirror’s investigation “could trigger a similar scandal in the Lords.”
Peers are allowed to give passes to their secretaries, researchers, drivers and carers.
But a Mirror analysis found the list of passholders sponsored by Peers includes more than 100 people who have declared interests as lobbyists or representatives of interest groups or charities.
Reminder: What did David Cameron do?
He started working as an adviser for Greensill Capital in 2018, two years after leaving Downing Street.
He got the job with a firm led by financier Lex Greensill just weeks after the end of a standard ban on lobbying after he left office.
It later emerged Mr Greensill had worked in No10 when Mr Cameron was PM – but Mr Cameron insisted they had little contact.
Last Spring, as Covid hit, Mr Cameron’s paid lobbying for Greensill began in earnest.
The ex-PM privately texted Chancellor Rishi Sunak to appeal for support for the firm, as well as two other Treasury ministers.
Greensill’s request was ultimately refused by officials and the firm went bust in March, putting thousands of British steel jobs at risk.