The BBC’s Panorama programme last night was just half an hour in length, but revealed two key new pieces of evidence. Both refer to claims that Paul Tucker, formerly deputy governor at the Bank of England, leaned on Barclays to lower its Libor submissions.
The claim has arisen previously, of course – and was strongly denied. In 2012 Tucker took the initiative and offered to appear in front of the Treasury Select Committee to set the record straight. Asked by MPs if any government official or minister had told him to pressure Barclays over its Libor submissions, he said "absolutely not".
According to one version of the story at that time, communication between Bank officials and top Barclays execs was misconstrued as conversations trickled through the bank.
At the peak of the financial crisis, it is normal that Threadneedle Street would be keeping tabs on, and speaking with, London's biggest financial companies. The Financial Services Authority – the City watchdog at the time – fined Barclays in the summer of 2012, and one of its related documents refers to a Barclays-Bank of England phone call from 2008.
"No instruction for Barclays to lower its Libor submissions was given during this telephone conversation," it says. "However, as the substance of the telephone conversation was relayed down the chain of command at Barclays, a misunderstanding or miscommunication occurred. This meant that Barclays' submitters believed mistakenly that they were operating under an instruction from the Bank of England (as conveyed by senior management) to reduce Barclays' Libor submissions."
Yesterday's new evidence, uncovered by the BBC, could simply shine further light on this misunderstanding. But Conservative MP Chris Philp believes it calls the whole story into question. Panorama said the evidence spans a considerable period of time – from September 2007 to October 2008. Philp wonders if this points to "a more systematic and ongoing attempt by the Bank of England to put pressure on Barclays".
So far the authorities have gone after traders and Libor submitters, securing five prosecutions. This is their right, of course, and it falls perfectly within their remit. The public, however, will expect an equally thorough investigation into whether or not responsibility also lies higher up the food chain. This matter warrants close scrutiny, and MPs are right to speak out.