Labour has said Rishi Sunak has “ultimate responsibility” for money lent through Government Covid support schemes – and accused the chancellor of “hiding” from questions over the Greensill scandal.
Anneliese Dodds, the shadow chancellor, has written to Rishi Sunak criticising his decision not to go to the House of Commons last week to answer questions about the controversy surrounding lobbying by former prime minister David Cameron on behalf of failed firm Greensill.
The government instead sent a junior business minister to answer an urgent question about the issue that has engulfed Westminster, in a move that Labour said “erodes public trust and does a disservice to the office of Chancellor of the Exchequer”.
Officials said business minister Paul Scully was chosen to respond to Tuesday’s question because Greensill was selected as a lender for the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CLBILS) by the British Business Bank, which is overseen by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
But Dodds said information released via freedom of information requests showed that the Treasury was involved in talks with Greensill, which has since collapsed, about being involved with the scheme.
“As the custodian of HM Treasury, you have ultimate responsibility for any and all public money lent through the Government Covid emergency loan schemes, which were designed by your department and launched by you personally,” she told Sunak in her letter.
The collapse of Greensill, a major lender to the steel sector, hit headlines after it emerged that Cameron sent text messages to the chancellor bidding for the government to support the struggling firm during the pandemic.
The offer was turned down, according to the Treasury, leaving Greensill to fall into administration, putting thousands of jobs in the UK steel industry at risk.
Shadow cabinet member Dodds told Sunak in her letter that she was “concerned” his dealings with the former Conservative party leader “may have constituted a breach of the ministerial code”.
Labour said internal Treasury emails revealed that Greensill discussed its application to be a CLBILS affiliate with Sunak’s officials on April 24 2020 – the day after the Chancellor sent the second of his two text messages to Cameron.
The readout of that meeting showed Greensill representatives reacting to “news” that they were “very pleased to hear”, said the party.
Dodds, in her letter, set out 21 questions that the Opposition wants answers to regarding the Greensill controversy.
The questions include asking for more information about the “proposals” mentioned by Sunak in a text to Cameron and why a further meeting between Greensill and Treasury officials took place on May 14 2020 “at the Chancellor’s request”.
“The chancellor is running scared of scrutiny over his role in the Greensill affair, but the public demand answers,” said Dodds.
“From secret conversations with his old boss David Cameron to questions about how Greensill got access to hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayer-backed loans to how much the chancellor knew about what they were doing with it, Rishi Sunak must now come clean about his role in the return of Conservative sleaze.
“He should come out of hiding and explain himself.”