Boris Johnson risks losing 'red wall' of election seats over lobbying 'shame'

18 April 2021, 09:33

A senior Tory MP has warned that Boris Johnson may lose his 'red wall' of seats
A senior Tory MP has warned that Boris Johnson may lose his 'red wall' of seats. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

A senior Tory MP has warned that Boris Johnson may lose his 'red wall' of seats won in the last general election if he does not deal with the 'shameful' lobbying crisis currently within his party.

Sir Bernard Jenkin said the current row over lobbying will lead to a "corrosion" of public trust.

The collapse of Greensill, a major lender to the steel sector, hit headlines after it emerged that Mr 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.

The Whitehall spending watchdog said it is to investigate Greensill Capital's involvement in the Government's coronavirus support schemes.

The National Audit Office has said that its inquiry will cover the accreditation process by which Greensill was authorised to issue financial support through the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CLBILS).

It will also look at any post-accreditation monitoring of the activities of the firm which filed for insolvency last month.

Sir Bernard, writing in the Observer, said that the PM could lose former Labour voters who voted for him at the last election will "dismiss him" unless he can show he is transparent and not a part of the "out-of-touch elite".

"There is nothing wrong with a private citizen wanting to make money, but we have a system that has allowed the lines between public service and private gain to become blurred," Sir Bernard wrote, adding that it was "shameful".

He said there had been a "failure of successive governments to be more transparent" about the relationships between administrations and business.

"This crisis presents an opportunity for a reset in politics and Whitehall, which could begin to restore public confidence," he added.

A Downing Street spokesperson said the prime minister had commissioned an independent review into connections between the firm and Whitehall.

And on Friday, further links emerged between Whitehall and Greensill Capital.

David Brierwood combined a role as a crown representative in the Cabinet Office with being a director at Greensill for three and a half years.

The Cabinet Office stressed that Mr Brierwood's role was nothing to do with supply chain finance, Greensill's area of business, and all crown representatives go through "regular propriety checks".

There is no suggestion of wrongdoing, but links between ministers, officials and businesses are under intense scrutiny following the collapse of Greensill in March and revelations about Mr Cameron's lobbying activities for the firm.

The dual role performed by Bill Crothers, who began working for Greensill as a part-time adviser in September 2015, a move approved by the Cabinet Office, and did not leave his Civil Service role until November that year has also fuelled the row.

Lord Pickles, chairman of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, which examines roles taken up by ministers and officials, told MPs on Thursday it sometimes appeared there were not "any boundaries" between Whitehall and the private sector.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the current system is "not working" and that stronger lobbying rules are needed.