UK government doubles down on lobbying defence

The logo of Greensill Bank is pictured in downtown Bremen, Germany, July 3, 2019. REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer//File Photo

Britain’s government doubled down on its defence against accusations of cronyism on Sunday, arguing that former leader David Cameron’ failure to get support for finance firm Greensill Capital showed its lobbying rules were “pretty good”.

Questions over whether former ministers and civil servants are granted easy access to the Conservative government have been raised by the behaviour of Cameron and other officials.

Cameron has denied breaking any code of conduct or government rules and the government has repeatedly said the outcome of his discussions on failed firm Greensill’s proposals for access to a COVID-19 loan scheme were not taken up.

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson has launched an independent review to look at the allegations and several parliamentary committees are also launching inquiries into the role of lobbyists and ministers’ interests in private companies.

George Eustice, the environment minister, said he believed Cameron had done nothing wrong, but agreed with the former prime minister’s statement that with hindsight he should have contacted the government in more formal way than via texts.

“The real point is has he really done anything wrong? Well on the face of it no, but there’s a review going on, we mustn’t prejudge that,” he told Sky News.

“But fundamentally I think that the systems we have in place … is actually a pretty good one, but that’s not to say you couldn’t make tweaks and changes.”

The scandal has grown since the Financial Times and Sunday Times newspapers reported that Cameron contacted ministers on behalf of Greensill, including sending text messages to finance minister Rishi Sunak and arranging a drink between banker Lex Greensill and Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

The government said last week a former procurement chief was allowed to take a part-time role advising the company in 2015 – when Cameron was prime minister – while remaining a public official, or civil servant.

Hancock has also been criticised for owning shares in a company, where his sister is a director, which was approved as a potential supplier to the health service.

Eustice said the health minister had declared that interest and had no role in any procurement. “So yes there’s nothing wrong with ministers having financial interests provided they declare them in the appropriate way.”

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