Rishi Sunak should have told David Cameron to stop texting him about Greensill, parliamentary committee says

Treasury Committee says former prime minister should have been encouraged to lobby through ‘more formal’ channels

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Tuesday 20 July 2021 06:51
<p>The chancellor was asked by Mr Cameron  for taxpayer cash</p>

The chancellor was asked by Mr Cameron for taxpayer cash

Rishi Sunak should have told David Cameron to stop trying to lobby him via text message and instead use more formal channels, a cross-party committee of MPs has suggested.

In a report published on Monday the influential Treasury Select Committee said the Greensill scandal showed that the rules around lobbying were too weak and needed to be overhauled.

The committee said the former prime minister should have been “encouraged” into “more formal methods” at “the initial stage of his lobbying”.

Mr Cameron was revealed to have sent text messages to the chancellor asking for taxpayer cash to prop up the bank he worked as an advisor for, Greensill Capital.

He unsuccessfully lobbied for the bank to be given access to a publicly funded coronavirus loan scheme; the bank ultimately gained access to a different scheme.

The revelations raised questions about the nature of lobbying in Westminster and the access former politicians and their confidants are given to government.

The committee report says: “The Treasury should have encouraged Mr Cameron at the initial stage of his lobbying into more formal methods of communication, and there should have been a discussion as to whether Mr Cameron’s ongoing contact posed any reputational risks to the Treasury, and whether, as a consequence, mitigation was required.

“In the light of these events we expect the Treasury to put in place more formal processes to deal with any such lobbying attempts by ex-prime ministers or ministers in the future and to publish the process which they will follow should similar circumstances recur.”

The committee accepted that no rules had been broken, but added that they were clearly "of insufficient strength and there is a good case for strengthening them".

Angela Rayner, Labour's deputy leader, said the fact that Mr Cameron had broken no rules showed how bad the rules were.

“The fact that David Cameron apparently did not break any rules during the Greensill scandal proves that the rules that are supposed to regulate lobbying are completely unfit for purpose,” she said.

“The Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA) system is pointless and toothless. As this case shows, it causes more harm than good by giving a veil of legitimacy to the rampant cronyism, sleaze and dodgy lobbying that is polluting our democracy under the Tories.

“Labour will ban former Ministers from lobbying government for at least five years after they leave office, and overhaul the current broken system and replace it with an Integrity and Ethics Commission that will close the revolving door and stamp out sleaze.”

Mel Stride, the Conservative MP who chairs the Treasury committee, said: “Our report sets out important lessons for the Treasury and our financial system resulting from both Greensill Capital’s collapse and David Cameron’s lobbying.

“The Treasury should have encouraged David Cameron into more formal lines of communication as soon as it had identified his personal financial incentives. However, the Treasury took the right decision to reject the objectives of his lobbying, and the Committee found that Treasury ministers and officials behaved with complete and absolute integrity.

“There are a number of lessons for the operation of our financial system, including the need for urgent reform of the change in control regulations for the acquisition of banks, reform of the appointed representatives regime, and the need for more data on non-bank lending.”

“We look forward to the conclusions of the other inquiries on the collapse of Greensill Capital, and will continue to follow developments closely.”

A HM Treasury spokesperson said: “This report is clear that the Treasury was right to consider Greensill’s proposals, right to ultimately reject their proposals, and concludes that the Treasury behaved with absolute integrity throughout the process.”

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