Former prime minister David Cameron lobbied three different Treasury ministers as he tried to secure access for his employer Greensill Capital to a Bank of England coronavirus support scheme.
Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, revealed on Thursday that Cameron, who was an adviser to the now collapsed finance group, “reached out informally by telephone” to him and fellow Treasury ministers Jesse Norman and John Glen.
The revelation came in a letter from Sunak to the shadow chancellor, Anneliese Dodds, as the chancellor tried to clear his name after weeks of claims by Labour that he put Treasury officials under pressure to help Greensill.
Sunak pointed out in his letter that Cameron’s pleas to various ministers were rejected, and that the Treasury refused to allow Greensill access to a BoE coronavirus support scheme for companies called the Covid Corporate Finance Facility.
But Dodds claimed that “the chancellor’s decision to open the door to Greensill Capital put public money at risk” and that he might have broken the ministerial code.
Dodds seized upon details of a text message sent by Sunak to Cameron on April 23 last year, separately released by the Treasury, in which the chancellor said he had “pushed” his officials to see if there was a way of admitting Greensill to the BoE scheme.
Sunak said in his text to Cameron that a Greensill proposal “did require a change to the Market Notice” — the rules of the BoE scheme — adding: “I have pushed the team to explore an alternative with the Bank that might work.”
Dodds said the message suggested that “Greensill Capital got accelerated treatment and access to officials, and that the chancellor pushed officials to consider Greensill’s requests. Sunak’s aides “totally rejected” the claim that Sunak broke the ministerial code.
Cameron’s efforts were in vain, although Greensill went on to become an accredited lender for one of the government coronavirus loan programmes for companies, called the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme.
Greensill’s participation in that scheme is being investigated, and state guarantees on loans issued by the group have been suspended “on a precautionary basis”, Sunak said in his letter to Dodds.
Sunak’s allies said Cameron sent the chancellor “multiple messages” about Greensill, although he replied by text only to two of them.
The first, sent on April 3 last year and beginning “Hi David”, said that Sunak was “stuck in back-to-back calls” but he promised to call back. There was a call shortly afterwards.
The second, sent on April 23, said Sunak was “pushing” officials to see whether a way could be found to admit Greensill to the BoE’s Covid Corporate Finance Facility. “No guarantees, but the bank are currently looking at it and Charles should be in touch,” it said. “Best, Rishi.”
Charles Roxburgh, second permanent secretary to the Treasury, held nine meetings with Greensill but ultimately rejected Cameron’s entreaties to give the finance group access the BoE scheme, where the central bank purchased companies’ commercial paper.