LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Tuesday an independent review would have “carte blanche” to look into lobbying, especially former Prime Minister David Cameron’s work for Greensill Capital.
The role Cameron played in trying to lobby ministers on behalf of the failed finance company has raised questions about government access, particularly by former ministers who take up paid employment with private firms.
It has also fuelled accusations that Johnson’s government operates a so-called “chumocracy” where contracts are handed to friends – a charge denied by the government, which says that Cameron’s lobbying did not result in his desired aim.
Johnson’s spokesman said the review would not have legal powers – something the main opposition Labour Party said added to the impression that the review was “a Conservative cover up”.
Cameron has said he had not broken any lobbying rules, but that he accepted his communication with government should be completely formal. The former prime minister has indicated he will take part in the review.
Asked what he made of the behaviour of his former boss Cameron, Johnson told reporters: “That’s a matter for Nigel,” referring to Nigel Boardman, a partner at law firm Slaughter and May, who will lead the investigation into Greensill.
He said Boardman would have “pretty much carte blanche to ask anybody whatever he needs to find out”.
The review was prompted after 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 Australian banker Lex Greensill and Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
Greensill was brought in as an adviser to the government while Cameron was prime minister from 2010 to 2016. After leaving office, Cameron became an adviser to Greensill’s now-insolvent company.
The ties between government and Greensill were also illustrated by the Cabinet Office saying the government’s former procurement chief was allowed to take a part-time role advising the company’s board in September 2015 while employed as a public official, or civil servant.
On Sunday, Cameron said in a statement he did not break any codes of conduct or government rules and that ultimately the outcome of the discussions on Greensill’s proposals on a loan were not taken up.
But he added: “As a former prime minister, I accept that communications with government need to be done through only the most formal of channels, so there can be no room for misinterpretation.”
(Reporting by Paul Sandle, Sarah Young and Elizabeth Piper, Editing by Angus MacSwan)