David Cameron met with the UK’s vaccine minister less than two months before a private health firm he advises won lucrative public contracts worth £870,000.
The UK branch of Illumina Inc. was awarded two contracts related to genome sequencing by Public Health England in late April, openDemocracy revealed.
Cameron – who has been embroiled in a lobbying scandal relating to his role at collapsed lender Greensill Capital – has previously claimed his role at Illumina is simply to promote the benefits of genome sequencing, and that he does not lobby for government contracts on their behalf.
But Cameron reportedly discussed “UK genomics sequencing” with Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccines minister, on 1 March. Official disclosures confirm that he was representing Illumina at the meeting.
This is not the first time questions have been raised about his role at the company. In 2019, Illumina was granted a £123 million contract just a week after Cameron appeared at a genomics conference alongside then health secretary Matt Hancock.
‘Who hasn’t he lobbied?’
When prime minister, Cameron established Genomics England – which is entirely owned by the Department of Health and Social Care. A £78 million deal between Genomics England and Illumina was later announced, the investigative website reported.
Cameron visited Illumina’s US headquarters in 2016, shortly after resigning as prime minister, and voiced “shared optimism” for the company’s technology. He was appointed as an adviser in 2018, becoming chair of its international advisory board.
“David Cameron’s behaviour is evidence that the rules that are supposed to regulate lobbying are completely unfit for purpose and need a radical and urgent overhaul,” Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, told openDemocracy.
“There appears to be nobody in government who the former prime minister has not lobbied in an effort to enrich himself and his clients during this pandemic.”
Rose Whiffen, research officer at Transparency International UK, said: “It will make troubling reading for many that a former prime minister can meet with his past colleagues in government on behalf of a paying client, yet there are no enforceable rules to prevent this from happening.
“Given what we know now about his lobbying for Greensill, the appearance of David Cameron elsewhere in official transparency disclosures suggests that was not an isolated attempt by him to exert influence in Whitehall after leaving office.”
‘Insufficient strength of the rules’
MPs said earlier this month that lobbying rules were “insufficient” in the face of Cameron’s lobbying for Greensill.
Cameron placed calls and sent dozens of texts and emails to ministers and senior officials as he tried to win access to Covid support programmes for the since-collapsed specialist bank.
However, as there were more than two years between his resignation from Downing Street and taking up his role at Greensill, the former prime minister’s actions have been deemed permissible under current rules.
But the Commons Treasury Committee, which carried out one of nine investigations into the Greensill saga, said the rules should be tightened to prevent further lobbying episodes from occurring.
“We accept that Mr Cameron did not break the rules governing lobbying by former ministers, but that reflects on the insufficient strength of the rules, and there is a strong case for strengthening them,” said the committee’s Lessons from Greensill Capital report.