Starmer accuses Johnson of 'blocking proper inquiry' into Greensill lobbying scandal

14 April 2021, 12:53 | Updated: 14 April 2021, 14:30

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Sir Keir Starmer has accused Boris Johnson of "blocking a proper inquiry" into David Cameron’s lobbying activities for Greensill Capital.

Describing it as "just the tip of the iceberg", the Labour leader said the scandal was the "return of Tory sleaze".

"Dodgy contracts, privileged access, jobs for their mates, this is the return of Tory sleaze," he declared during Prime Minister's Questions.

READ MORE: Greensill: 'Sleazy' David Cameron acted just 'to line his pockets', says MP Rachel Reeves

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Last year, Mr Cameron appealed to ministers to award emergency Covid funds to the collapsed financial firm, in which he had "tens of millions" of now worthless shares.

The Labour Party is now urging MPs to vote through a proposal to establish a parliamentary inquiry into the former prime minister's lobbying activities.

On Wednesday, Sir Keir pressed MPs to back the motion in a bid to start to "clean up the sleaze and cronyism that's at the heart of this Conservative government". 

Mr Johnson highlighted an independent review being conducted by Nigel Boardman, the results of which will be available in June.

He insisted the Government and Conservative Party "has been consistently tough on lobbying", referring to legislation "we introduced... saying that there should be no taxpayer-funded lobbying".

Sir Keir said the independent inquiry "isn't even looking at the lobbying rules", later adding: "The Prime Minister says there's going to be an inquiry but the person he's appointed worked for the law firm which lobbied to loosen lobbying laws. You couldn't make it up."

He said an "overhaul of the whole broken system" is needed.

Labour's calls for a parliamentary inquiry have intensified after it emerged that the former head of Whitehall procurement became an adviser to Greensill while still working as a civil servant, in a move approved by the Cabinet Office.

Bill Crothers began working for the firm as a part-time adviser to the board in September 2015 and did not leave his role as Government chief commercial officer until November that year.

Mr Johnson admitted it was "not clear" that "boundaries" had been "clearly understood".

But in response to calls for a parliamentary inquiry, he said politicians "marking their own homework... won't do a blind bit of good."

Sir Keir and the PM further clashed when Mr Johnson pointed to shadow defence secretary John Healey as the one person campaigning for Greensill to be able to use government loan schemes.

The Labour leader responded that he hadn’t heard such a "ridiculous defence... since my last days in the Crown Court".

"It is called the shoplifters' defence - everyone else is nicking stuff so why can't I? It never worked," he said.

Sir Keir insisted Mr Healey was speaking for his constituents and for local jobs when pressing for Greensill to access Covid-19 support.

Mr Cameron, who was in Downing Street from 2010 to 2016, said in a statement earlier this week: "In my representations to government, I was breaking no codes of conduct and no government rules."

He said that "ultimately" the outcome of his efforts to get Greensill's proposals included in the Government's Covid Corporate Financing Facility (CCFF) was that "they were not taken up".

"So, I complied with the rules and my interventions did not lead to a change in the Government's approach to the CCFF," he added.

"However, I have reflected on this at length. There are important lessons to be learnt.

"As a former prime minister, I accept that communications with government need to be done through only the most formal of channels, so there can be no room for misinterpretation."