David Cameron is facing calls for an inquiry over his attempts to lobby ministers on behalf of his employer, banker Lex Greensill.
Mr Cameron described the decision to exclude Greensill Capital from the multibillion-pound scheme as “nuts”.
“What we need is for Rishi (Sunak) to have a good look at this and ask officials to find a way of making it work,” Mr Cameron wrote in one e-mail to a No10 advisor, published by the Sunday Times.
In texts published by the Treasury, Mr Sunak replied to him, saying “I have pushed the team to explore an alternative” and said Mr Cameron should get a response from a senior civil servant at the Treasury.
Officials ultimately refused the appeal and Greensill collapsed in March, putting thousands of jobs in the British steel industry at risk.
Labour has also been pushing for an inquiry into the role played by Mr Greensill in the coalition government, where he was an unpaid advisor.
It might sound complicated but the row is important as it raises broader questions about who has access to Government and whether the system around lobbying is tough enough.
Here we break down what the story is about and why you should care.
Who is Lex Greensill?
Australian banker Lex Greensill founded a financial services company called Greensill Capital in 2011, which collapsed in March this year.
Greensill was the main financial backer of Liberty Steel – which employs around 5,000 people at 11 sites across Britain – and its collapse has left these workers facing an uncertain future.
Mr Greensill, a former billionaire, also acted as an unpaid Downing Street adviser during the coalition years and was given access to a number of Government departments.
During the pandemic, his firm was accredited to a scheme known as the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme, allowing it to make state-backed loans of up to £50million at a time.
What are his links to David Cameron?
Mr Greensill was brought in as an unpaid adviser when Mr Cameron was Prime Minister.
During this time, he was also given security passes to various Government departments.
Reports in the Sunday Times suggest Mr Greensill was able to promote a financial product for pharmacists that he had been working on during this period.
After leaving Downing Street in 2016, Mr Cameron himself went to work for Greensill Capital as an adviser two years later.
He came under fire when it emerged that he had sent texts to Chancellor Rishi Sunak ‘s private phone to call for financial support through the Government’s Covid Corporate Financing Facility.
The company subsequently went bust after its application for support was rejected.
What about the business card?
Fresh questions were asked about Mr Greensill’s role after Labour got hold of his business card from 2012, which described him as a “Senior Advisor” in the Prime Minister’s office.
The card includes a Downing Street email address and a landline telephone number, laying out in black and white how Mr Greensill had an official role in Government.
It is understood that this information was available on the Greensill website at the time and a source at Greensill verified the card’s authenticity.
Downing Street said he acted as a Supply Chain Finance Adviser from 2012 to 2015 and as a Crown Representative for three years from 2013.
While it is not uncommon for business people to hold advisory roles, Labour said it raises questions about the kind of access Mr Greensill was granted.
Who did David Cameron contact in Government?
Mr Cameron admitted he should have gone “through only the most formal of channels” after it emerged that he had texted Rishi Sunak’s personal phone to lobby on behalf of Greensill Capital.
Mr Sunak confirmed that the ex-PM had also contacted two other Treasury ministers, Economic Secretary to the Treasury John Glen and Jesse Norman, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury.
It was later reported Mr Cameron had arranged a “private drink” between Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Mr Greensill to discuss a payment scheme later rolled out in the NHS.
Why does it matter?
It might sound techy but the row is important for several reasons.
It raises questions about who gets access to the heart of Government and why.
The disclosures provoke fresh concern about whether lobbying rules – aimed at creating transparency over who is seeking to influence the Government – are tough enough.
The term lobbying can cover all sorts of things, including charities pushing for more funding or trade associations and businesses trying to change policy.
Former ministers are banned from lobbying the Government for up to two years after leaving office and must also seek advice from the independent Advisory Committee on Business Appointments if they want to take on new jobs in this time.
Mr Cameron didn’t join Greensill Capital until 2018 so there is no suggestion he broke these rules.
But the row raises fresh questions about the role of former Prime Ministers and ministers in public life beyond this period.
How has it been investigated and is it enough?
Mr Cameron was cleared of breaking lobbying rules over his pleas to Mr Sunak to help Greensill Capital as it teetered on the brink of collapse.
The Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists concluded that Mr Cameron was an employee of Greensill Capital so he was not required to declare himself on the register of consultant lobbyists.
However, Labour says this isn’t enough and has called for a probe by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which advises the Government on ethics rules.
The Committee has made it clear that it cannot investigate individual cases but said it would accept submissions on the row as part of a broader review.
Labour also highlighted the fact that Mr Cameron asked Tory peers to vote against changes to the Lobbying Act in 2014 which would have increased transparency around in-house lobbying – like Mr Cameron did for Greensill.
Sir Alistair Graham, a former Chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, told the Mirror that a QC-led inquiry should be undertaken into the row.
Gordon Brown also called for an overhaul of the rules to prevent former Prime Ministers from lobbying for commercial purposes for at least five years after leaving office.
What does David Cameron say?
Mr Cameron initially refused to comment despite repeated approaches by the Mirror and other newspapers.
However he finally broke his silence on Sunday, releasing a lengthy statement where he defended his conduct but admitted he should have used “only the most formal of channels” to approach ministers.
Here is his full statement:
“Since the collapse of Greensill Capital, many questions have been raised about my dealings with Lex Greensill in government, and my subsequent involvement with the company.
“I completely understand the public interest in this issue, given the impact of Greensill’s collapse on the hundreds of people who worked for the company and on other businesses and livelihoods. I feel desperately sorry for those affected.
“I also worry about the future of firms like GFG Alliance and the many jobs that could be on the line, which are linked to what has happened at Greensill.
“It’s important to understand that I was not on the Board of Greensill Capital, nor was I a member of the Risk or Credit Committees.
“I played no role in the decisions to extend credit, or the terms on which such credit was extended, to GFG or any other customer. But that is little comfort to the many who worry about the firm’s future and their jobs. They are very much in my thoughts throughout this difficult and uncertain period.
“Having said this, many of the allegations that have been made about these issues are not correct.
“Lex Greensill was brought in to work with the Government by the former Cabinet Secretary, Jeremy Heywood, in 2011. He was not a political appointee, but part of the Civil Service drive to improve government efficiency.
“In bringing him in, Jeremy was acting in good faith to solve a real problem – how to ensure companies in supply chains, particularly SMEs, could access low cost credit.
“The false impression has been created that Lex Greensill was a close member of my team, meeting with me on a regular basis. The truth is, I had very little to do with Lex Greensill at this stage – as I recall, I met him twice at most in the entirety of my time as Prime Minister.
“The Government supported his initiative to encourage large companies to use supply chain finance (SCF) to enable their suppliers to access low cost credit.
“I announced this initiative as Prime Minister in October 2012. I made it clear that the Government would play its part through the community pharmacy scheme, ensuring that thousands of pharmacies could get early payment to improve their access to credit and cash flow.
“This scheme has successfully reduced costs to the NHS and enabled many thousands of pharmacies to access early payments and low cost credit.
“The idea of my working for Greensill was never raised, or considered by me, until well after I left office.
“I took up the position as a part-time Senior Adviser to Greensill Capital in August 2018. This was shortly after General Atlantic, one of the most respected international backers of tech sector companies, invested in the company. Large financial institutions, like Credit Suisse, were helping to enable Greensill’s expansion.
“Likewise, well-known international blue-chip companies such as Airbus, Vodafone, Nissan, AstraZeneca, Ford and Oracle contracted and partnered with Greensill. The company had a strong board, with experienced figures from business, banking and finance.
“I was not a director of the company, and was not involved in the oversight of management, or the day to day running of the business. I was contracted to work for the company for 25 days per year (details of my other activities since leaving Downing Street are set out at the end of this statement).
“My remuneration was partly in the form of a grant of shares. Their value was nowhere near the amount speculated in the press.
“Part of my motivation for accepting the role was my desire to work for a UK-based, entrepreneurial, early stage finance and technology venture, rather than simply work with larger, more well-known financial institutions.
“I remain proud that during my time as Prime Minister the UK became a global centre of the new and emerging FinTech industry. Greensill was one of the fastest growing UK FinTech businesses. I was attracted by the solution it offered, supporting businesses to gain access to working capital.
“I later became an enthusiastic advocate for Greensill’s pay product, Earnd, which enabled employees to see and access their pay as they earn it, in real-time and, crucially, for free, with no charges or interest rates, rather than having to wait until the end of the month. This was, to my mind, an antidote to exploitative payday lending schemes.
“My responsibilities included providing geopolitical advice to the leadership, helping to win new business, speaking for the company at conferences and events, and helping with plans for international expansion.
“As part of my work, I assisted with presentations made by the company overseas, including in the US, Singapore, South Africa, Australia and the Gulf. While visiting the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in January 2020 to advise on their forthcoming chairmanship of the G20, I also – with Lex Greensill – met with a range of business and political leaders, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
“As the Softbank Vision Fund was by this time the largest investor in Greensill, the company was, in effect, part owned by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia (itself a major participant in the Vision Fund).
“Greensill planned to open a new regional office in Riyadh as part of its international expansion and I wanted to assist in this effort. While in Saudi Arabia, I took the opportunity to raise concerns about human rights, as I always did when meeting the Saudi leadership when I was Prime Minister.
“Like many businesses in 2020, Greensill – and many of its clients – was negatively affected by Covid. Companies facing challenging financial markets, especially ones whose activities impacted many other businesses, were encouraged to make representations to the Government.
“I made representations to the Treasury and others about the potential for the company to continue to play its part in extending credit to businesses, particularly via the Covid Corporate Financing Facility (CCFF). (The approach proposed by Greensill mirrored very closely action that had been taken during the financial crisis in 2008/09, when supply chain finance bonds were included in a similar financing facility).
“While I understand the concern about the ability of former ministers – and especially Prime Ministers – to access government decision makers and the sense, and reality, of ease of access and familiarity, I thought it was right for me to make representations on behalf of a company involved in financing a large number of UK firms. This was at a time of crisis for the UK economy, where everyone was looking for efficient ways to get money to businesses.
“It was also appropriate for the Treasury to consider these representations.
“Concern has been raised about the nature of my contact, via text message and e-mail. I understand that concern, but context is important: at that time the Government was – quite rightly – making rapid decisions about the best way to support the real economy and welcomed real time information and dialogue.
“It was a time of national crisis with fears about businesses’ access to credit. Greensill Capital wanted to offer a genuine and legitimate proposal to help with this.
“As part of my work for Greensill, I also discussed their solutions for supply chain finance and their pay product, Earnd, with others. This included various people to discuss the roll out of Earnd across the NHS, where it was being offered for free as part of Greensill’s Corporate Social Responsibility programme. Greensill met all costs themselves.
“I was attracted to Earnd as an exciting and innovative product with the real potential to help employees with their finances, not least being able to get paid at the end of their shift, rather than at the end of the month. I considered it important that Earnd would remain forever free to use for all workers and public sector employers.
“In my representations to government, I was breaking no codes of conduct and no government rules. The Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists has found that my activities did not fall within the criteria that require registration.
“Ultimately, the outcome of the discussions I encouraged about how Greensill’s proposals might be included in the Government’s CCFF initiative – and help in the wake of the Coronavirus crisis – was that they were not taken up.
“So, I complied with the rules and my interventions did not lead to a change in the Government’s approach to the CCFF.
“However, I have reflected on this at length. There are important lessons to be learnt. As a former Prime Minister, I accept that communications with government need to be done through only the most formal of channels, so there can be no room for misinterpretation.
“There have been various charges levelled against me these past weeks, mainly that I made representations to the Government on behalf of a company I worked for. I did.
“Not just because I thought it would benefit the company, but because I sincerely believed there would be a material benefit for UK businesses at a challenging time.
“That was, in large part, my reason for working for Greensill in the first place. I deeply regret that Greensill has gone into administration, but the central idea behind their key product -using modern technology and deep capital markets in order to help firms be better financed, to grow and create jobs – was a good one.
“My other work:
“My other principal activities since leaving 10 Downing Street have included:
– Writing and publishing my memoirs;
– Serving as President of Alzheimer’s Research UK, leading a major fundraising drive and chairing their early diagnosis project, Early Detection of Neurodegenerative diseases (EDoN);
– Chairing the Patrons of National Citizens Service (NCS), which I set up as Prime Minister;
– Co-chairing the Council on State Fragility with the former President of Liberia and former President of the African Development Bank;
– Sitting on the Board of ONE, the advocacy group for international development; and
– Co-chairing Pew Bertarelli Ocean Ambassadors, where we seek to build on the success of the UK’s Blue Belt, which helps protect our marine environments, and promote its goals around the world.
“I also back a range of charities and causes close to my and Samantha’s hearts, principally those associated with our Armed Forces and veterans, disabled and ill children, and Alzheimer’s. And I support a range of causes local to our home in Oxfordshire.
“My commercial interests include advising three other firms – Fiserv, Illumina and Afiniti – working in the areas of FinTech, BioTech and Artificial Intelligence respectively.
“I have also given a number of speeches, lectures and interviews through the Washington Speakers Bureau.”
Greensill’s administrators and Mr Greensill have declined to comment.