Labour is mounting a fresh attempt to press ministers over David Cameron’s lobbying activities on behalf of the collapsed financial firm Greensill Capital.
Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds has been granted an urgent Commons question calling on Chancellor Rishi Sunak to explain how Greensill was granted access to a Covid loan scheme for businesses, putting hundreds of millions of pounds taxpayers’ money at risk.
Mr Sunak, however, is not expected to respond in person with officials arguing the scheme in question is the responsibility of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy rather than the Treasury.
The move comes after Downing Street announced the senior lawyer, Nigel Boardman, had been commissioned to carry out a review into how the firm – founded by Australian financier Lex Greensill – was able to secure Government contracts.
It follows a series of reports on the former prime minister’s lobbying on behalf of the firm – including sending text messages to Mr Sunak’s personal phone number.
In response to one, the Chancellor said he had “pushed” officials to consider proposals which could have helped Greensill.
It was was also reported that Mr Cameron arranged a “private drink” between Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Mr Greensill to discuss a payment scheme which was later rolled out in the NHS.
“Lessons to be learned”
Mr Cameron finally broke his silence at the weekend with a statement to the PA news agency in which he insisted he had not broken any rules, but accepted there were “lessons to be learned”.
As a former prime minister, he said that any contacts with government be through “only the most formal of channels, so there can be no room for misinterpretation”.
He said that ultimately his efforts to get Greensill’s proposals included in the Government’s Covid Corporate Financing Facility (CCFF) were not taken up.
Labour, however, said there were still questions for ministers to answer as to how Greensill became an accredited lender for the another Government programme – the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Scheme (CLBILS) – enabling it to issue state-backed loans of up to £50 million.
The firm was the biggest financial backer of the GFG Alliance – the parent company of Liberty Steel – and its collapse has put in jeopardy some 5,000 jobs in the UK.
Ms Dodds said that Mr Sunak – who has not appeared before MPs since the stories about Greensill broke last month – needed to come to Parliament to explain what had happened.
“The Chancellor can’t keep ducking scrutiny of his decision to put hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayer money in the hands of an unregulated lending firm with links to a former Conservative PM,” she said.
“We need to know what he ‘pushed’ his officials to do to help Greensill access one of his Covid loan schemes. And we need to know why he then simply opened the door for them to lend through another one.”
In a letter last week to Ms Dodds, Mr Sunak said the Treasury had “no role” in Greensill’s accreditation to the scheme.
Meanwhile Mr Hancock is expected to face questions from MPs about his meeting with Mr Greensill when he takes Health and Social Care questions in the Commons on Tuesday.