Jeremy Heywood’s widow questions Greensill inquiry chief’s independence

Exclusive: Suzanne Heywood raises concerns about Boris Johnson’s appointee, Nigel Boardman

The widow of the man who was the UK’s top civil servant during the early years of the Greensill lobbying scandal has raised concerns over the independence of the official appointed by Boris Johnson to run an inquiry into the affair.

Suzanne Heywood, whose husband, Jeremy Heywood, was the cabinet secretary when the financier Lex Greensill entered Downing Street, questioned whether Nigel Boardman was the right person to run an inquiry into many conflicts of interest.

She told the Guardian that she has voiced her worries after reading reports that Boardman, a former partner at the law firm Slaughter and May, is close to the government and the Conservative party.

“I know there have been concerns raised by others about his [Boardman’s] perceived independence,” she said. “I do think that in an inquiry of this sort – particularly one which is investigating at its heart conflicts of interest – we should have someone where we are all confident that there is no perception of a conflict of interest.

“I have read the reports about his perceived independence and there are a number of grounds for concern.”

Her comments come after Johnson’s former chief aide Dominic Cummings and a union executive expressed concerns that the inquiry could be a “stitch-up”. Boardman has refused to accept a submission from Lady Heywood or anyone else representing her husband, who died in 2018, she claims.

Johnson appointed Boardman, 70, in April to run an independent investigation into government contracts and lobbying involving a number of senior Conservative politicians including the former prime minister David Cameron, the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, the MP and former health secretary Matt Hancock and the peer Francis Maude.

It appeared that the supply-chain financier Greensill had been given privileged access to Downing Street when Cameron was prime minister and Heywood was cabinet secretary. After leaving government, Cameron became an adviser to Greensill Capital, and lobbied ministers including Sunak for access to government-backed loans.

Boardman is a paid non-executive director to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), and is a long-term adviser to Slaughter and May, which was awarded £7m of government contracts over the last year. He is on the board of Arbuthnot bank, which has close ties to the Conservative party. His father, Lord Boardman, was a former government minister and Tory party treasurer under Margaret Thatcher.

Boardman has stepped aside from his work at BEIS while he has been running the Greensill review and will not advise Slaughter and May for the same period. But Lady Heywood said his office had written to her refusing to read or accept any submissions about Lord Heywood. She has grown increasingly concerned that her late husband is being made a scapegoat to protect ministers and other politicians.

She said: “At the start of the inquiry I asked the Cabinet Office to allow either me or a qualified person to represent me in front of the inquiry.

“But I have since been told that even if I send in submissions on my late husband’s behalf they will not read them. It is an affront to natural justice.”

Earlier this month, Lord Maude, a former cabinet minister, and three senior officials appeared before the public administration and constitutional affairs committee (PACAC).

Maude told MPs at the session that “it was perfectly clear that Jeremy had brought Lex Greensill into government” and that “Jeremy was the principal advocate” of the use of supply-chain finance for major government suppliers.

In a letter to PACAC, Lady Heywood has questioned Maude’s claim not to have understood why the government had an interest in bringing Greensill’s expertise with supply-chain finance in-house.

Dave Penman, the general secretary of the senior civil servants’ union the FDA, warned against scapegoating by the government and urged Boardman to accept submissions on behalf of Lord Heywood.

He said: “The Nigel Boardman inquiry was set up to understand the origins of a scandal that ended with a former prime minister pleading for taxpayer cash for his employer.

“As the details unfolded, two things became clear. Firstly, that the late Sir Jeremy Heywood would be a central figure in the origins of Greensill’s involvement with government. Secondly, that fingers were very quickly being pointed at the civil service to distract from the inconvenient truth that David Cameron sought, and was granted, privileged access to cabinet ministers.

“Nigel Boardman could and should have ensured that someone was appointed to represent Sir Jeremy’s interests, with access to documentation and the civil servants who were involved. The refusal to do so will only serve to undermine the credibility of an inquiry that may well have fair criticisms of Sir Jeremy.”

Cummings, who occasionally clashed with Heywood in government, also said Heywood should have been represented in the Boardman inquiry.

“The [Cabinet Office] stitching up dead [cabinet secretary] to take the blame would be very Yes Minister, & bad,” he wrote on Twitter.

Asked to respond to Lady Heywood’s comments, a Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “The Boardman review is ongoing, and as we have set out we will publish and present his findings to parliament and the government’s response, in due course.”

Boardman was approached for comment.

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Rajeev Syal

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