David Cameron Told Sunak Excluding Greensill Would Be ‘Nuts’
(Bloomberg) -- Former U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron bombarded Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak and other top government officials with a stream of text messages as he tried to persuade them to include Greensill Capital in a program of state-backed pandemic lending.
Documents released by Parliament’s Treasury select committee showed the extent of the former premier’s lobbying activities on behalf of the now collapsed firm founded by Lex Greensill, whom he described in one message as “my friend.” In his submission to the panel, Cameron detailed more than 80 exchanges between himself or his office and officials across government and the Bank of England.
Sunak previously released two text messages he sent to Cameron but the full details of the former British leader’s approaches to the U.K.’s top finance minister have not been known until now. The documents indicate that there were several phone calls involving Cameron, Sunak and others, and that one of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s aides was a key contact who helped the former leader.
In a text message to Sunak on April 3, 2020, Cameron appealed to the chancellor to intervene after Treasury officials turned down his requests to help. Greensill had been asking the Treasury to rewrite Bank of England’s Covid Corporate Finance Facility lending program to include supply chain finance to help small and medium sized firms.
“HMT are refusing to extend CCFF to include supply chain finance, which is nuts as it pumps billions of cheap credit into SMEs,” Cameron wrote. “Greensill Capital, a British Fintech success story (who I help) are the champions of this.”
On the same day, Cameron emailed Johnson’s adviser Sheridan Westlake asking for a call and saying he hoped the aide was “still thriving at the heart of the machine.”
Cameron and Conservative government officials and ministers are under scrutiny over how he used his personal contacts at the top of the Tory party to lobby on behalf of Greensill during the height of the first wave of coronavirus. Greensill Capital collapsed in March after a major insurance partner didn’t renew coverage on loans the firm made to key customers.
In evidence to the committee on Tuesday, Greensill himself disclosed that Cameron regularly attended the firm’s board meetings but was not a director. He had a stake in the company of less than the 1% some media have reported, Greensill said.
Cameron remained on friendly terms with his former government colleagues, as the tone of his messages showed.
In a text on March 5 last year, Cameron asked the top Treasury official Tom Scholar for a contact number for Jon Cunliffe, deputy governor at the Bank of England. “Three questions: is Sir Jon C still at the bank? Do you have a number? Can I give you lunch once the budget is done? Love Dc.”
In a later message to Scholar, he wrote: “I am riding to the rescue with Supply Chain Finance with my friend Lex Greensill.”
Cameron even reached out to Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister -- the pair were once close friends but suffered a major breakdown in relations after Gove decided to back Brexit at the 2016 referendum on EU membership.
“I know you are manically busy -- and doing a great job, by the way (this is bloody hard and I think the team is coping extremely well),” Cameron messaged Gove. “But do you have a moment for a word? I am on this number and v free. All good wishes Dc.”
Cameron told the Treasury committee he heard first that Greensill Capital was facing financial troubles in December 2020.
“The first time I became concerned that the company might be in serious financial difficulty was in December 2020 following a call I received from Lex Greensill, during which I was told that the company’s planned capital raising was not going as well as had been hoped,” Cameron wrote. “Up until that point, I firmly believed that Greensill was in good financial health. In the autumn of 2020, I understood Greensill was on track for a relatively strong year financially and it had embarked upon what looked likely to be a successful capital raising.”
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.