Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has accused Boris Johnson of overseeing a “return of Tory sleaze” over the Greensill Capital lobbying scandal.
Starmer told MPs today that the government needed to “overhaul the whole broken [lobbying] system”, while also calling for a full Westminster-led inquiry into Greensill Capital’s links with ministers.
Labour is introducing an opposition motion to parliament today in a bid to force a full inquiry into lobbying by David Cameron on behalf of Greensill Capital, a recently failed finance firm, which would be led by a parliamentary committee of MPs.
Johnson announced earlier this week that an independent review will be conducted by Slaughter and May lawyer Nigel Boardman, however the opposition says this does not go far enough.
It comes as it was yesterday revealed that former senior civil servant Bill Crothers took up a position with Greensill Capital in 2015 while still working in Whitehall.
Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs), Starmer said: “Dodgy contracts, privileged access, jobs for their mates, this is the return of Tory sleaze.
“It’s so ingrained in this Conservative government – we don’t need a another Conservative appointee marking their own homework.”
He also asked Johnson if the “current current lobbying rules are fit for purpose”?
The Prime Minister said that “civil servants should be able to engage with business and should have experience of the private sector”, but that “it’s not clear those boundaries were properly understood”.
“I’ve asked for a review of the current arrangements that will be conducted by Nigel Boardman,” Johnson said.
The Prime Minister added: “This is a government and a party that has been consistently tough on lobbying and we introduced legislation that ensures there should be no taxpayer funded lobbying, that quangos should not be allowed to get involved with lobbying, we put in a register for lobbyists, there’s one party that voted to repeal the 2014 Lobbying Act and it was the Labour party in their 2019 manifesto.”
Starmer said Johnson’s answer was akin to the “the shoplifter’s defence – everyone else is nicking stuff, so why can’t I?”
Johnson’s review will investigate Cameron’s role in lobbying health secretary Matt Hancock and chancellor Rishi Sunak on behalf of Greensill while he worked at the finance firm as a part of a wider probe into lobbying.
Cameron last year sent texts to Sunak in a bid to overturn a Treasury decision to deny Greensill Capital access to the government’s Covid Corporate Financing Facility (CCFF), which saw the Bank of England buy millions of pounds of bonds from investment grade firms.
In text messages released by the Treasury, Sunak told Cameron he would “push” Treasury officials to look at Greensil’s application again, however the firm was ultimately denied entry to the scheme.
Sunak is also facing questions over why Greensill Capital, a supply chain finance firm, was just one of two non-bank financial firms approved to administer loans as a part of the government’s Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS).
Speaking in parliament yesterday, business minister Paul Scully said: “The accreditation for any of the Covid loans schemes is run independently by the British Business Bank.
“Neither BEIS nor HM Treasury had a role or were involved in the CLBILS accreditation decision for Greensill.”
In a 1,800-word statement this weekend Cameron broke his silence over the scandal, admitting he should have used more formal channels of communication but denying he had broken government rules.