U.K. Tories Brace for More Fallout as Greensill Probes Kick Off
(Bloomberg) -- The drip-feed of revelations in the lobbying scandal engulfing U.K. politics is likely to intensify this week, risking further embarrassment to Boris Johnson’s ruling Conservatives as multiple inquiries related to the collapse of Greensill Capital get under way.
Parliament’s influential Treasury Committee is due to set out terms for its investigation into how Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak responded to Greensill’s requests for access to coronavirus aid programs. The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee also begins its probe, which the Telegraph newspaper reported will call every living former prime minister not currently in politics to give evidence.
Those and several others come on top of an inquiry commissioned by Johnson himself to try to draw a line under the controversy.
While the fallout initially centered on former Prime Minister David Cameron’s lobbying of ministers on behalf of Greensill, scrutiny has widened amid revelations of a revolving door between business and government, and allegations that the lobbying scene has descended into corruption.
On Sunday, the government sent Environment Secretary George Eustice on its media round to defend Sunak as well as Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who last week was accused of “cronyism” over the award of contracts to a company he owns shares in.
No Special Favors
“Fundamentally I think the systems we have in place with ministers declaring interests with the Ministerial Code -- and the focus on that and how ministers conduct themselves in office -- is actually a pretty good one,” Eustice told Sky News. “Did people give any special favors to David Cameron or indeed to Greensill? The answer to that is no.”
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 potential job losses.
Eustice said the government will wait for findings from the various inquiries before committing to any “tweaks” to lobbying rules.
So far, the controversy has not damaged Johnson’s Tories in opinion polls. Voting intention figures published by YouGov late last week showed the Conservatives at 43%, 14 percentage points ahead of the main opposition Labour Party led by Keir Starmer.
But a senior Conservative warned Johnson still risks suffering electoral fallout if some of the traditional Labour voters he won over to deliver his landslide election victory in 2019 defect back.
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,” Bernard Jenkin, chair of the powerful House of Commons Liaison Committee, said in the Observer on Sunday.
Cabinet Secretary Simon Case is expected to deliver the findings of his review of conflicts of interest in the civil service to the official Greensill inquiry. Case’s probe was driven by revelations some officials were on Greensill’s payroll while still working for the government.
The government has yet to provide a date for when it intends to publish the latest list of ministers’ interests, which is required under the Ministerial Code but which hasn’t been released for nine months.
It will try to get on the front foot on Monday by announcing a replacement for Alex Allan, who resigned as the prime minister’s independent adviser on ministerial standards last November, the Telegraph newspaper reported.
Meanwhile the Labour Party ramped up pressure on the Tories by demanding a full parliamentary inquiry into Greensill and lobbying, after it failed to win a House of Commons vote on the issue last week.
“What we need is an open inquiry and not one where the Conservatives are marking their own homework,” Labour’s Shadow Communities Secretary Steve Reed told Sky News.
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