What is the Greensill lobbying scandal and who is involved?

From an Australian financier to David Cameron, here are the key elements in the controversy so far

The most serious controversy about government lobbying and cronyism for years is unfolding in the UK – and it is a complex story. Here are the key elements so far.

What is Greensill Capital?

Set up by the Australian financier Lex Greensill, the firm specialises in supply-chain finance, which settles business bills immediately for a fee, assisting with the issue of late payments. Greensill began working with the NHS as part of Citibank in 2012, but then set up his own firm. This collapsed in March.

How is David Cameron involved?

Cameron was prime minister when Greensill started to seek government work, although the Australian was reportedly first brought in by Jeremy Heywood, who was cabinet secretary at the time. But in 2016, after leaving office, Cameron became an adviser to Greensill Capital. He was given share options reportedly worth tens of millions of pounds.

What did Cameron do?

Last year he sent “multiple” texts to Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, and “informally” phoned two other Treasury ministers, asking for Greensill Capital to get the largest possible allocation of government-backed loans under the Covid corporate financing facility, or CCFF. He also lobbied a No 10 aide, and in 2019 took Greensill to a “private drink” with Matt Hancock, the health secretary.

What was the government response?

Text replies from Sunak in 2019, released after a freedom of information request, show that in April last year the chancellor told Cameron he had “pushed the team” in the Treasury to see if he could arrange full access to CCFF loans. Other released documents show Treasury officials had a series of meetings with Greensill Capital but eventually refused it access to the CCFF. The company was later accredited to the coronavirus large business interruption loan scheme (CLBILS), handing it the ability to offer government-backed loans of up to £50m.

Who else is involved?

On Tuesday it emerged that the government’s chief commercial officer, Bill Crothers, began working as an adviser to Greensill Capital in 2015 – while still employed in the civil service. Remarkably, he was given official approval to do this. On Wednesday, Boris Johnson declined to rule out the possibility that more officials could have been connected to the company.

What are the main concerns about all this?

There are several. One is how Greensill became so embedded within Cameron’s Downing Street; he had a No 10 business card calling him a “senior adviser” and was nominated by Haywood for a CBE.

There are also questions over why the government, which does not have cashflow problems, needed to use supply chain finance.

Cameron’s role is under particular scrutiny. He appears to have used personal contacts to seek preferential treatment for a company in which he had a financial stake.

Sunak’s pledge that he had “pushed the team” to help also raised eyebrows.

Finally, the dual role of Crothers has prompted new worries about a revolving door between Whitehall and private companies that then benefit from government contracts.

What has Cameron said?

For 30 days, nothing. Then, on Sunday he released a statement saying he had done nothing wrong, but accepting his communications with ministers should have been “done through only the most formal of channels, so there can be no room for misinterpretation”. The former PM said reports of the value of his share options had been exaggerated, but declined to say how much they would have been worth.

… and Downing Street?

No 10 said on Monday it was launching an independent investigation into Cameron’s lobbying, led by the corporate lawyer and government adviser Nigel Boardman. Labour questioned Boardman’s independence and called for a wider inquiry based around a cross-party panel of MPs. This idea was defeated after a Commons debate. However, two Commons select committees have announced that they will look into the issue.


Peter Walker Political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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