Labour tells Rishi Sunak to 'stop hiding' and take 'responsibility' over Greensill

18 April 2021, 00:01

Labour's Anneliese Dodds has accused the Chancellor of "hiding"
Labour's Anneliese Dodds has accused the Chancellor of "hiding". Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

Labour's Anneliese Dodds has told the Chancellor he has "ultimate responsibility" for money lent through Government Covid support schemes, as she accused him of "hiding" from questions over the Greensill Capital affair.

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 Ms 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 Mr Sunak in her letter.

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.

READ MORE: Greensill: Incensed James O'Brien caller explains why he is disgusted by cronyism

READ MORE: Greensill scandal: David Cameron will respond 'positively' to requests for evidence

Shadow cabinet member Ms Dodds told Mr 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 Mr Sunak's officials on April 24 2020 - the day after the Chancellor sent the second of his two text messages to Mr Cameron.

The readout of that meeting showed Greensill representatives reacting to "news" that they were "very pleased to hear", said the party.

Ms 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 Mr Sunak in a text to Mr 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 Ms 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."

Her comments come after 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 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.