Rishi Sunak told David Cameron he had 'pushed' officials over Greensill

8 April 2021, 20:09 | Updated: 13 April 2021, 05:21

Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Texts from Rishi Sunak to David Cameron show the chancellor "pushed" officials to look at another way to help a firm the former prime minister was lobbying for.

New documents released by the Treasury on Thursday confirm the chancellor and Mr Cameron were in lobbying talks about collapsed finance firm Greensill Capital.

The former PM sent text messages to Mr Sunak's private phone last year requesting financial help for the company he was lobbying for as an adviser.

Rishi Sunak said the ex-Tory leader "reached out (to him) informally by telephone", as well as Economic Secretary John Glen and Financial Secretary Jesse Norman, over Covid support.

It comes amid an ongoing row over lobbying.

The two replies released by the Treasury show the chancellor rebuffed Mr Cameron's suggestion. However, the ex-PM's messages to Mr Sunak have not been released as they were sent "with an expectation of confidence".

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David Cameron has been under fire for using his contacts to lobby ministers on behalf of the firm
David Cameron has been under fire for using his contacts to lobby ministers on behalf of the firm. Picture: PA

Greensill had approached Treasury officials requesting access to the Covid Corporate Finance Facility (CCFF), administered by the Bank of England.

The chancellor said the meetings involved the firm asking for changes to the terms of the scheme, or for the Treasury to broaden its scope to allow them access to it, both of which were rejected.

Greensill later filed for insolvency, which put thousands of UK steelmaking jobs at risk and left Mr Cameron's reported tens of millions of share options worthless.

Mr Sunak has defended his decision to listen to the financial company's requests, citing a desire to help businesses survive the coronavirus pandemic.

He also published two texts he sent to the former prime minister in April 2020.

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The first message, sent by the chancellor on 3 April 2020, read: "Hi David, thanks for your message.

"I am stuck back to back on calls but will try you later this evening and if gets too late, first thing tomorrow. Best, Rishi."

The second message from Mr Sunak, sent on 23 April, said: "Hi David, apologies for the delay.

"I think the proposals in the end did require a change to the market notice but I have pushed the team to explore an alternative with the Bank that might work.

"No guarantees, but the Bank are currently looking at it and Charles should be in touch. Best, Rishi."

Responding to a Freedom of Information request and explaining the omission of the ex-PM's messages, the Treasury said: "These communications were made by David Cameron in his capacity as an employee of Greensill, and with an expectation of confidence."

Rishi Sunak confirmed the former prime minister's lobbying activities
Rishi Sunak confirmed the former prime minister's lobbying activities. Picture: PA

The Treasury also published messages sent to and from its second permanent secretary, Charles Roxburgh.

In a letter sent to shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds on Thursday, Mr Sunak explained Greensill's requests to change the CCFF.

He then wrote: "I can confirm that David Cameron reached out informally by telephone to me, and to the Economic Secretary and the Financial Secretary, on the matter of Greensill Capital's access to the CCFF.

"The matter was referred to the relevant officials and, following appropriate consultations as outlined in the previous requests, the request was turned down.

"During this process, this was communicated to Greensill Capital by officials and, in parallel, by me to David Cameron."

Labour has called on the government to tighten the law on lobbying amid continuing controversy over the activities of Mr Cameron - who has been exonerated by a watchdog - on behalf of the financial firm.

The Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists concluded Mr Cameron was an employee of Greensill so was not required to declare himself on the register of consultant lobbyists.

Rishi Sunak and David Cameron's communication has been criticised by opponents
Rishi Sunak and David Cameron's communication has been criticised by opponents. Picture: PA

Ms Dodds said: "These messages raise very serious questions about whether the chancellor may have broken the ministerial code.

"They suggest that Greensill Capital got accelerated treatment and access to officials, and that the chancellor 'pushed' officials to consider Greensill's requests.

"The chancellor's decision to open the door to Greensill Capital has put public money at risk.

"There must be a full, transparent and thorough investigation into the chain of events that saw Greensill awarded lucrative contracts, the freedom of Whitehall and the right to lend millions of pounds of government-backed Covid loans."

SNP Cabinet Office spokesman Stewart Hosie said Boris Johnson's government was "stumbling from one scandal to the next", adding: "The latest developments around Greensill Capital and access to government departments granted to firms with close links to the Tory party has only raised further questions.

"Tory ministers and former prime ministers casually texting each other over government access utterly reeks.

"When MPs return from recess, Rishi Sunak must come before Parliament and set the record straight over his full exchange with David Cameron and what the outcome of those messages were."