The corporate lawyer chosen to chair the inquiry into the Greensill lobbying scandal was once named one of GQ’s most connected men in Britain – but his close connections in the world of finance and politics are set to come under scrutiny.
Nigel Boardman was a long-term partner at the international law firm Slaughter and May, a role he left in 2019, though he continues to be a senior consultant at the firm. Slaughter and May is deeply connected to the coronavirus loan scheme that David Cameron sought to access on behalf of Greensill Capital – repeatedly texting the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, on its behalf.
Lawyers from the firm were “working as an integrated team with Treasury legal advisers” as the Treasury set up the Covid corporate financing facility (CCFF), announced by Sunak on 17 March 2020, according to a release on the firm’s website.
The loans, operated by the Bank of England on behalf of the Treasury, provide lending to large companies that had investment-grade credit ratings before the Covid pandemic.
The firm is also well connected with regulation of ex-ministers’ business interests. Sarah de Gay, Boardman’s senior colleague at Slaughter and May, the firm’s special adviser on regulatory matters, has recently been appointed to the government’s Advisory Committee on Business Appointments.
That body advises former ministers and senior civil servants on whether and how they can take up appointments after their time in government, intended to prevent immoral use of former contacts but regularly criticised by transparency campaigners for being in effect toothless.
Slaughter and May previously made a joint submission with other law firms, approved by De Gay, that challenged the Cameron administration when the then prime minister proposed to change lobbying rules. It suggested that adopting a blanket statutory register of lobbyists “may have the effect of stifling productive, even essential, dialogue”.
Friends of Boardman described him as “the most eminent banking lawyer of his generation” and said he was supremely qualified to understand the intricacies of Greensill’s offer and the world of lobbying that Cameron inhabited after resigning as prime minister in 2016.
One senior lawyer said there was some surprise in legal circles that Boardman took the role given the review’s limited terms of reference, though No 10 has said he will be given relatively free rein to recommend changes to lobbying rules and can examine government documents. He will have no legal power to compel anyone to give evidence, however.
Another senior lawyer said Boardman would not be a government puppet but added that, given his commercial experience, “all his instincts will be to defend financial institutions”.
Boardman previously led a Cabinet Office review into the procurement process of Covid contracts early in the pandemic.
Jolyon Maugham QC, the director of the Good Law Project, which has investigated and launched legal action over government Covid contracts, said: “Nigel Boardman is a man with an impressive reputation who can be relied upon to tell the truth even if that truth emerges in so coded a form that few outside the establishment will understand it. But I do have real concerns about the issues he will be asked to look at – and the stones he will be told to leave unturned.”
Son of the former Conservative cabinet minister Lord Boardman, the inquiry’s head has said he will step back as a non-executive director at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
Labour said Boardman’s firm and its close connections with government raised questions over the inquiry’s impartiality. The shadow chancellor, Anneliese Dodds, said: “The man investigating why the chancellor pushed his team to give Greensill Capital access to the CCFF works for the law firm that advised the Treasury on the CCFF.
“This investigation has all the hallmarks of a Conservative cover-up, which is why Labour will force a vote in the House of Commons tomorrow to establish a full, transparent, parliament-run inquiry into the Greensill scandal.”
Boardman has been approached for comment.
A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “Nigel Boardman is a distinguished legal expert and he was asked to lead this review following the appropriate due diligence checks. The review will examine the facts thoroughly.”