U.K. Minister Defends Cameron as Scale of Lobbying Scandal Grows
(Bloomberg) -- Former Prime Minister David Cameron didn’t get any “special favors” when he lobbied for financial aid to Greensill Capital, a top Cabinet minister said, as the furor engulfing the government over its ties to business intensified.
Environment Secretary George Eustice said Sunday the government will wait for findings on the Greensill saga before committing to changing lobbying rules. Multiple inquiries into the issues have already started; another one due to be announced Monday is expected to call every living former Prime Minister who isn’t currently in politics for evidence, the Telegraph reported.
“Did people give any special favors to David Cameron or indeed to Greensill? The answer to that is no,” Eustice said in an interview with Sky News. “He meticulously observed the rules there that he himself actually put in place after some concerns around lobbying a decade ago.”
The scandal’s main focus has been Cameron, who sent text messages to ministers last year about financial aid for Greensill Capital, where he was an adviser. The scale of Greensill’s links to the government has broadened to senior civil servants, with revelations that some were also on Greensill’s payroll while in their government jobs.
Cameron’s role as a lobbyist came into focus after Greensill, which offered supply-chain financing services, faced a credit squeeze and then went into administration last month, leading to thousands of threatened job losses.
The Greensill revelations has also brought attention to the links between government officials and their financial interests more widely. Earlier this week, Health Secretary Matt Hancock was accused of “cronyism” over the award of contracts to a company he owns shares in.
The controversies have become a source of embarrassment for the government just before local elections next month. Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak was also implicated after it emerged he “pushed” officials to consider ways of helping Greensill following a request from Cameron. On Wednesday, opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer declared “the return of Tory sleaze.”
“It is very clear to me, from what I can see, that the Chancellor has not acted at all improperly,” Eustice told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show on Sunday. “He flagged it, he looked at it, and nothing was done on that case.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson risks suffering electoral fallout over the scandal and could face defections of some of the Labour voters he won over for the Conservative party that drove his landslide election victory in 2019, a senior Tory official said.
Those former Labour voters “will start to dismiss him unless he can show he is more open, more transparent and very different from the out-of-touch elite he defeated in the 2016 (Brexit) referendum and ousted from government,” Sir Bernard Jenkin, chair of the powerful Commons liaison committee, said in the Observer on Sunday.
The drip-feed of revelations is likely to continue as more critical attention is paid to whether the U.K.’s lobbying scene descended into corruption. Developments reported over the weekend include:
- Scotland’s finance minister Kate Forbes accepted a 600 pound ($830) rugby ticket from British industrialist Sanjeev Gupta, two years after his government-backed purchase of an aluminium smelter in her constituency, the Telegraph reported. Gupta’s GFG Alliance warned in February it would face insolvency without Greensill’s funding.
- Gupta may have also engaged in circular financing, raising cash from Greensill by selling steel that it then planned to buy back and resell to another customer with additional Greensill financing, the Sunday Times reported, citing documents it had obtained.
- Lex Greensill, head of the eponymous firm, claimed he was a “senior adviser” to former U.S. President Barack Obama in a Greensill Capital brochure seen by the Sunday Times.
- The opposition Labour party said Sunak is “running scared of scrutiny” over his role in Cameron’s Greensill lobbying
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