The Labour party has called for a parliamentary inquiry into the Greensill scandal, as cross-party calls grew to strengthen the UK’s lobbying regime following revelations about the actions of former prime minister David Cameron.
On Monday, Boris Johnson commissioned Nigel Boardman, a senior City lawyer, to investigate Cameron’s efforts to lobby senior ministers and government officials on behalf of Greensill Capital, the collapsed finance company. But opposition MPs believe the inquiry does not go far enough and parliament should investigate.
Last month Conservative MPs blocked a move by Labour to force the influential Treasury select committee to open an inquiry into the affair. Tories said any investigation would be overtly political.
Labour will now use a debate in the House of Commons on Wednesday to force a vote on forming a new select committee that would oversee an investigation into the Greensill scandal — including Cameron’s texts to chancellor Rishi Sunak on the company’s behalf, arranging a “private” drink with health secretary Matt Hancock and calls with senior officials.
Cameron denies breaking any rules but admitted on Sunday that he made a mistake in sending direct text messages to Sunak. “There are important lessons to be learnt,” he said in a written statement.
Rachel Reeves, shadow Cabinet Office minister, alleged that the Greensill scandal represented the “tip of the iceberg” of cronyism surrounding the government and said an independent investigation was necessary,
“The Conservatives cannot be trusted to mark their own homework on this. The Boardman investigation has all the hallmarks of a Conservative cover-up — the British public, especially those with their jobs on the line as a result of Greensill’s collapse, deserve answers,” she said.
Johnson defended the inquiry on Tuesday, stating that Boardman had “carte blanche” to “ask anybody whatever he needs to find out” and said it would be thorough.
The prime minister said the investigation, which will also look at the role of supply-chain finance in Whitehall, would be published when the inquiry was completed by the end of June. Supply-chain finance involves a financial institution agreeing to pay the bills a company owes to its suppliers.
“I would like it to be done quickly, but I want him to have the maximum possible access so we can all understand exactly what has happened, and that will of course be presented to parliament in due course,” he said.
Labour’s vote on Wednesday is unlikely to pass, due to a lack of support from the Conservative party which has an 80-seat majority in the Commons. But the move is still likely to increase pressure on the Johnson government to examine existing rules around lobbying and whether they should be strengthened.
Darren Jones, Labour MP and chair of the business select committee, backed a parliamentary investigation into lobbying rules: “These past few weeks have highlighted the need for the rules to be reviewed and most likely updated. Parliament should of course be part of that process.”
William Hague, a former foreign secretary and Conservative party leader, also supported calls for reform following the revelations of Cameron’s role. “I think a refresh of the rules after this inquiry would be wholly appropriate,” he told Times Radio.
John Major, the former Tory prime minister, also supported calls for reform. His spokesperson told the Telegraph he believed “it is right to re-examine and update the rules on propriety”.
Kwasi Kwarteng, business secretary, said he had never been contacted by Cameron in relation to recent revelations that the former prime minister had lobbied ministers about his then employer Greensill last year.
“I have never received a single phone call or WhatsApp from Mr Cameron,” he told MPs on the business committee, adding that, “as far as I understand”, neither had any of his department’s ministers or officials.
Meanwhile, Cameron’s other business interests have attracted scrutiny given the multiple government contracts awarded to Illumina, the life science firm that he has advised as a consultant. He has been chair of the US firm’s international board since 2017.
Cameron, who was pictured on stage with health secretary Hancock and an Illumina executive at a conference in September 2019 ahead of significant government contract wins for the firm, denies any lobbying on behalf of Illumina.
A spokesperson for the former prime minister said: “He was not engaged as a lobbyist and has not lobbied the UK government about any contracts between Illumina and the UK government.”
The former prime minister was told in 2017 by Whitehall’s appointments watchdog that he could not lobby in his new roles until two years after he left office in 2016 or use privileged information from his time in government to benefit the firms.
Cameron promised the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments that he would not play any role in contract negotiations between the government and Illumina — where his paid role would involve 2-3 days work a month — and would “not lobby ministers or the UK government in any way on behalf of Illumina or its partners”.
The Department of Health and Social Care said a contract it awarded Illumina following Cameron’s appearance at the 2019 conference alongside a company executive “was awarded in the correct way following extensive due diligence and through the proper transparency notice process”.
Cameron also leads the advisory board for call-centre tech firm Afiniti, which has in the past also included former French prime minister François Fillon and ex-BP chief executive John Browne.
The firm also employs Princess Beatrice in its New York office and lists board members such as José María Aznar, a former prime minister of Spain, and John Snow, former US Treasury secretary.
Cameron has also tried to launch a China investment fund to develop partnerships in technology, healthcare, energy and manufacturing, and is a consultant for payments firm Fiserv.
Illumina and Fiserv were not available for comment but Afiniti said Cameron has never been involved in the award of work or contracts from the UK government. “Mr Cameron has not lobbied the UK government on behalf of Afiniti,” the company said.
It has not been disclosed how much Cameron has earned from these roles, or from his speaking engagements. His only company — the Office of David Cameron — had net assets of £873,821 at April 2019, according to the most recent Companies House filing.