U.K.’s Sunak Fears Firms May Not Engage After Greensill Saga

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Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak defended his actions in the Greensill lobbying scandal, and said he fears the furor will have a chilling effect on the willingness of companies to talk to the U.K. government.

“If they feel every single conversation with government they have is for public consumption, they might think twice before they engage,” Sunak told a Parliament committee Thursday. “It’s important people feel they can engage.”

Sunak’s conduct came under scrutiny this year when it was revealed that former Prime Minister David Cameron lobbied the chancellor and the Treasury on behalf of the since-collapsed Greensill Capital during the pandemic.

The chancellor has come under pressure over texts he sent to Cameron saying he “pushed” his officials to consider helping Greensill.

At a Parliament hearing into his and the Treasury’s response to the lobbying, Sunak repeatedly denied that Greensill got favorable attention. Its proposal to access one of the government’s pandemic support programs -- ultimately rejected -- was considered like any other company, he said.

‘Not Disproportionate’

“This was not something we spent a lot of time on,” Sunak said. “In no way was there disproportionate effort on this particular set of proposals.”

Cameron and officials in the government are facing a series of related probes over his access and lobbying on behalf of Greensill early in the pandemic.

Greensill collapsed in March, putting thousands of jobs at risk including in the British steel industry, after a major insurance partner didn’t renew coverage on loans the firm made to key customers.

During an at times testy session, it was put to Sunak that it was “not credible” that a former prime minister wouldn’t receive greater attention than others. The chancellor told the committee he doesn’t know Cameron well and that he wouldn’t do anything differently if the same situation arose in the future.

“The identity of the person talking about it was not relevant to the amount of attention and proper due diligence that the issue got and required,” he said. “This was one of many strands of work, and in fact probably the one we spent the least time on during this period.”

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