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George Eustice tells LBC 'everyone conducted themselves as we would expect' over Greensill

18 April 2021, 11:27

By Maddie Goodfellow

Environment Secretary George Eustice has told LBC that "everybody conducted themselves in a way you would expect" in relation to Greensill, saying that people are "too preoccupied" with the scandal.

Speaking to Tom Swarbrick on LBC, Mr Eustice was pushed on his comments that the current UK lobbying rules are "pretty good" and fit for purpose in the light of the Greensill scandal.

The minister explained: "People can get too preoccupied with who might have spoken to someone, and the real question is how did a minister conduct themselves and were they unduly influenced.

"The point I have been making is that the ministerial code we have got does require all interests to be declared and it requires meetings to be declared.

"In this case, the Chancellor disclosed to officials that he had been approached and asked them to look at it again.

"The answer was that nothing could be done to help and he told David Cameron this and the business went bust.

"So if you step back and look at the context, the truth is that no special favours were done here."

He continued: "David Cameron does accept that rather than texting, he should have gone through more formal channels, he has already acknowledged that and says that he regrets that.

"We've got a review looking at this coming up which will get to the bottom of this and see if there are lessons that need to be learned or if we need to tweak the police, but it is important to realise that we have a lot in place at the moment by way of ministerial interest disclosure."

His comments come after a senior Tory MP 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.

And shadow cabinet minister Rachel Reeves told LBC that ministers have "questions to answer" over the scandal.

She told Tom Swarbrick: "Well what we've seen this week is that Tory sleeve is back and bigger than ever.

"It is beyond belief really that in the middle of the pandemic government ministers were taking calls and arranging meetings for the former PM and his boss to help them get access to lending schemes and the data of NHS employees.

"It is sleazy and government ministers have serious questions to answer."

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.