Labour is to force a binding Commons vote to establish a wide-ranging parliamentary inquiry into David Cameron and the Greensill lobbying scandal, saying the government cannot “mark its own homework”.
It will propose setting up a committee of MPs with the power to ask witnesses to give evidence and answer questions – including Cameron himself and the cabinet ministers who were lobbied by the former prime minister, including the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, and the health secretary, Matt Hancock.
The inquiry would demand that the government publish all communications relating to Greensill Capital between Cameron, Boris Johnson, Hancock and Sunak, as well as special advisers and senior staff.
Labour is unlikely to win the vote in the Commons at its opposition day debate on Wednesday if Johnson whips Conservatives to oppose it – but it will force the government to explain why it does not wish its own inquiry, announced on Monday, to be so wide-ranging.
Labour had hoped to force Sunak to the Commons on Tuesday for an urgent question on why Greensill was given powers to offer government-backed coronavirus interruption loans, but the government sent a junior minister, arguing the remit for the loans is a matter for the Department for Business.
Opening the urgent question debate, the shadow chancellor, Anneliese Dodds, said Sunak was “running scared” over providing answers about the issue.
Responding for the government, the junior business minister, Paul Scully, said his department administered the scheme, which meant he should appear.
Scully deflected Dodds’ questions on Greensill by saying this would be examined by the government inquiry. “The government recognises the interest in the matter, but it’s right that we now let that review happen and do its work,” he said.
Labour’s proposed inquiry would also look at the effectiveness of existing legislation to prevent inappropriate lobbying of ministers and the rules governing all public officials regarding conflicts of interest, which a number of MPs and campaigners have said are unacceptably weak.
The government’s independent inquiry will be led by the senior corporate lawyer Nigel Boardman and examine the use of supply-chain finance, offered by Greensill, as well as the role of its founder Lex Greensill, who was an adviser in Cameron’s government. It will also look at the former prime minister’s lobbying on behalf of the now-collapsed company during the past year.
Labour has said the Boardman investigation has “all the hallmarks of a Conservative cover-up”, drawing comparisons with the Priti Patel bullying inquiry, when Johnson ignored the advice of civil servants and kept the home secretary in post, as well as the intelligence committee report on Russian interference.
It said those had also been held behind closed doors and resulted in little or no action.
The shadow chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, Rachel Reeves, said: “Any Conservative who wants to stop the cronyism rampant in their party and in government must vote with Labour this week to uncover once and for all the truth behind this scandal.
“The Greensill scandal is just the tip of the iceberg in Conservative cronyism, which has been endemic during the pandemic and long before – laced through billions of pounds of contracts paid for by taxpayers and a slew of troubling senior appointments.”
Labour said it would aim to have the report to the house no later than 18 October 2021 and that it should consist of 16 cross-party MPs and be chaired by a backbencher, elected by fellow MPs.
Cameron had welcomed the government’s independent inquiry and his spokesman said he would “be glad to take part”.
Cameron admitted he regretted the manner of his lobbying efforts on behalf of Greensill, including messages to Sunak, two junior ministers, senior civil servants and a No 10 special adviser – but said he had broken no rules. He said he had reflected on his conduct and accepted that he should have communicated “through only the most formal of channels” and there were important lessons to be learned.
Cameron repeatedly texted Sunak and others to ask him to grant Greensill Capital access to the Bank of England’s Covid corporate financing facility (CCFF), which Treasury officials explored but ultimately did not grant.
While access to the CCFF was ultimately rebuffed, the National Audit Office is considering a request to investigate how Greensill Capital 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.