Top U.K. Official Offered Greensill’s Cameron BOE Phone Numbers
(Bloomberg) -- The top U.K. Treasury official gave David Cameron contact details for the deputy governor of the Bank of England, as the former prime minister tried to lobby on behalf of the now insolvent lender Greensill Capital.
Cameron had messaged Treasury Permanent Secretary Tom Scholar on March 5, 2020 requesting a number for Deputy Governor Jon Cunliffe and offering to take Scholar out for lunch, according to texts that were published by the House of Commons Treasury Committee.
On Friday, the Treasury published Scholar’s replies to the texts, in response to a freedom of information request from Bloomberg.
“Great to hear from you. Here’s the Cunliffe number. +44 203 461 [REDACTED],” Scholar wrote. “Can also supply emails, mobile numbers, you name it.”
Though the Treasury said that at the time, Scholar didn’t know Cameron was seeking to lobby on behalf of Greensill, the friendly tone is likely to raise further questions about close ties between government officials and the company as it tried to access emergency Coronavirus lending programs.
Scholar accepted Cameron’s invitation to lunch, saying: “Lunch would be great. Quite a lot to talk about!” He also noted they would be seeing each other at Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak’s planned leaving event for the then BOE governor Mark Carney. The gathering was to take place “chez Rishi,” Scholar said.
When the Covid pandemic put those plans on ice, Scholar texted Cameron again: “Guess we won’t be elbow-bumping down Rishi’s place any time soon.”
While Cameron ultimately failed to persuade the Treasury to accede to Greensill’s requests, the intensity of his lobbying has put pressure on senior members of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government to explain whether they gave him special favors.
Sunak has also been pressured into publishing his responses to Cameron, including one in which he told the former premier he’d “pushed” his officials to consider helping Greensill.
In all, Cameron sent more than 70 emails and texts to different officials, including 23 text messages to Scholar. In its FOI response, the Treasury published 12 text messages sent to Cameron from Scholar.
Last month, the Treasury rejected Bloomberg’s request, saying Scholar’s replies to Cameron had been automatically deleted when his phone was reset after the wrong password was inputted.
But Bloomberg appealed on the grounds that as Cameron had published his own texts to Scholar, it was not unreasonable for Scholar to request Cameron release his own missives from his phone.
Most of Scholar’s messages concern details of setting up meetings and status updates about the request from Greensill. But Friday’s release does clarify one mystery: In one text on March 6, 2020, Cameron had replied “never quite understood how rate cuts help a pandemic.”
That promoted speculation about whether Scholar had improperly disclosed information about a central bank interest rate decision that came a few days later. Treasury Committee member Harriett Baldwin asked Scholar about it in an evidence session on May 27, saying that “implies that what you had said to him covered the rate cut.”
Scholar replied that while he couldn’t remember what he’d written to prompt Cameron’s reply, “I can certainly assure you that I would not have disclosed anything to do with U.K. monetary policy, not least because, at that point in time, I was not in possession of any information.”
The response released Friday shows Scholar believed central bank bosses had their hands full. “The world’s central bankers are in [REDACTED] mode,” he said. The Treasury paraphrased the redacted word as “crisis” though it’s not clear why the government decided not to print the word itself.
Scholar’s messages reveal he last encountered Greensill founder Lex Greensill in 2008. Another question answered by the publication of the texts is whether Scholar reciprocated the “Love Dc” sign-offs that Cameron wrote in a couple of texts. The closest Scholar came was to write “Tom.”
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