What is Greensill Capital and why is David Cameron facing a lobbying investigation?

Adam Forrest
·5 min read
David Cameron (PA)
David Cameron (PA)

The lobbying scandal surrounding David Cameron and his work for the failed finance firm Greensill Capital has prompted a sparked a whole series of inquiries at Westminster.

The former Conservative prime minister faces some difficult questions about his relationship with financier Lex Greenhill and his incredible access to ministers and officials after leaving No 10.

Mr Cameron will be grilled by two separate panels of MPs on Thursday – the Treasury Committee at 2.30pm and the Public Accounts Committee at 5pm – about his intense lobbying efforts.

The former Tory leader has insisted he broke no rules on behalf of the firm – but admitted he should have communicated with the government through “formal channels” rather than via text and WhatsApp.

Mr Cameron is under pressure to explain his persistent attempts to secure access to a government-backed Covid loan scheme for Greensill. But there are several other probes going on into related lobbying issues – including an investigation ordered by Boris Johnson.

Watch: Every chance David Cameron will be hauled back before MPs to answer more questions

Wasn’t Cameron cleared by a lobbying watchdog?

Mr Cameron was last week cleared of breaking lobbying rules by a watchdog after asking chancellor Rishi Sunak to support Greensill last year through the government’s Covid Corporate Financing Facility (CCFF).

The Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists concluded that Mr Cameron was not required to declare himself on the register of consultant lobbyists.

But the former Tory PM is facing scrutiny over both his time at No 10 and his lobbying work for Greensill in recent years. It is alleged that Mr Greensill was given special access to government departments while Mr Cameron was in office so he could promote a financial product he specialised in.

It has emerged that Mr Cameron lobbied at least four Tory ministers on behalf of Greensill in recent years – including organising a “private drink” with the health secretary Matt Hancock about a payment scheme for NHS staff.

The Pharmacy Early Payment Scheme saw banks swiftly reimburse pharmacists for providing NHS prescriptions, for a fee, before recovering the money from the government. Greensill Capital went on to provide funds for the scheme.

Boris Johnson and David Cameron together in 2012Getty Images
Boris Johnson and David Cameron together in 2012Getty Images

What are the select committees looking into?

Both the Treasury Committee and the Public Accounts Committee will be asking Mr Cameron about his persistent efforts to secure access to the CCFF loans for Greensill.

The remarkable scale of Mr Cameron’s lobbying efforts during the Covid crisis was revealed earlier this week with the publication of increasingly desperate messages sent to chancellor Rishi Sunak and Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, among others.

Mr Cameron and his staff sent ministers and officials around 73 emails, texts and WhatsApp messages relating to the now-collapsed firm in less than four months. He claimed it was “nuts” and “bonkers” for the firm to be denied the CCFF loans.

The Public Accounts Committee is looking into the payment scheme for NHS staff and how contracts have been awarded.

Other committees are looking at related matters. The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee will look at rules around conflicts of interest, while the Committee on Standards in Public Life is examining lobbying and the ministerial code of conduct.

David Cameron is under pressure to provide answersPA
David Cameron is under pressure to provide answersPA

What will the inquiry announced by Boris Johnson investigate?

The prime minister has asked leading lawyer Nigel Boardman to look into “how business representatives engaged with government” in discussions over supply chain finance and how contracts were awarded.

Downing Street said Mr Boardman – an adviser to the business department and son of a Tory cabinet minister – would be given “carte blanche” to investigate fully.

But No 10 also confirmed he would have no legal powers, and would not be suggesting any changes to current lobbying rules.

Labour is not satisfied the review will be enough – claiming it felt like an “attempt to push bad behaviour into the long grass”.

What has the government’s response to the scandal been?

Ministers initially tried to defend Mr Cameron. Culture secretary Oliver Dowden back his long-term ally by saying the former PM was a “man of utmost integrity and I’ve no doubt at all he would have behaved properly”.

Earlier this week fellow cabinet minister George Eustice insisted recently-released emails and texts showed his colleagues did not do Mr Cameron “any special favours” when it came to the Covid loan scheme.

However, Mr Johnson has made no attempt to defend Mr Cameron. Speaking about the announced investigation, the PM claimed his inquiry chief Mr Boardman would be given “pretty much carte blanche to ask anybody whatever he needs”.

What’s been Cameron’s response?

Mr Cameron has insisted he broke no rules over his lobbying for Greensill, but admitted he should have communicated with the government “through only the most formal of channels”.

He said he understood public concern about his informal contacts – including by text message and email with ministers including Mr Hancock and Mr Sunak – acknowledging that he should have acted differently “so there can be no room for misinterpretation”.

He said he would comply with Mr Boardman’s review and any parliamentary committee inquiries into his activities. The former PM has already submitted a large amount of evidence to the Treasury Committee.

What’s the impact of Greensill’s collapse?

Concerns over the future of the Liberty Steel company have been expressed after financial backer Greensill Capital went bust in March. Liberty Steel employs around 5,000 workers at a number of sites across the UK. 

Mr Cameron could also face questions about the collapse of Greensill earlier this year. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is formally investigating the company, having received allegations relating to the firm’s collapse that were “potentially criminal in nature”.

In a letter to the Treasury Committee, Mr Cameron said the “first time I became concerned that the company might be in serious financial difficulty was in December 2020” following a call from Mr Greensill.

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