Cameron Says ‘Big’ Greensill Paycheck Wasn’t Why He Lobbied U.K.
(Bloomberg) -- Former Prime Minister David Cameron defended his intensive lobbying on behalf of collapsed finance firm Greensill Capital in a probe that’s raised questions over private dealings at the top of the British government.
During nearly four hours of interrogation by two parliamentary committees, Cameron denied he was motivated by money when he bombarded his ex-colleagues with dozens of requests by text message and email to help the firm.
He disclosed he was paid a “big” salary at Greensill -- far more than he earned as prime minister -- but wouldn’t say how much. Lobbying the government was never meant to be his role at the firm, he said.
Cameron ultimately failed to persuade ministers to include Greensill in a state-backed Covid lending program. But the collapse of the company has dragged him back into the public eye, and put pressure on senior members of Boris Johnson’s government to explain whether they did him special favors.
Investigations are now under way, including by U.K. regulator the Financial Conduct Authority. With thousands of jobs in the British steel industry now at risk as a result of Greensill’s collapse, scrutiny of Cameron’s actions risks spilling over into a wider problem for the Conservative government.
The former prime minister, who resigned after losing the 2016 Brexit referendum, said it was “a painful day” for him to return to Parliament -- albeit virtually -- to explain his role in Greensill.
The firm specialized in so-called supply chain finance and collapsed in March after a key insurance partner didn’t renew coverage on loans it made to many customers, including steel magnate Sanjeev Gupta’s GFG Alliance.
Cameron also had shares in Greensill, though he dismissed reports that he stood to gain 60 million pounds ($84 million) from his role as “completely absurd.” He said his lobbying activities weren’t motivated by what he had to lose, but instead because he felt Greensill could help the government to support British businesses through the pandemic.
In a contrite opening statement to Parliament’s Treasury committee, Cameron said he accepted former leaders should show more restraint when lobbying government, and should restrict themselves to one letter or email on behalf of any business.
“I completely accept that former prime ministers are in a different position to others because of the office that we held and the influence that continues to bring,” he said. “We need to think differently and act differently.”
When questioned over the failure of Greensill, Cameron said there was no sense it was in trouble at the start of the pandemic. He said the company’s bosses knew it was too exposed to GFG, but there was a plan to deal with this. He said he had seen no evidence of fraud.
Parliamentarians on the Treasury Committee questioned the intensity of Cameron’s lobbying, with one member, Angela Eagle of the opposition Labour Party, likening it to “stalking.”
Another Labour lawmaker, Emma Hardy, said Cameron had made two calls and 16 written communications on one day to six different people, “all of whom would have had other things to do in the midst of a rapidly developing crisis.” Cameron acknowledged a degree of “persistence.”
“I made a choice to join a company that I believed could be a British success story,” he said. “Sadly that has ended badly.”
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