Government insists David Cameron did nothing wrong amid lobbying row

·4-min read
David Cameron speaking during the Cheltenham Literature Festival at Cheltenham Racecourse.
David Cameron speaking at the Cheltenham Literature Festival at Cheltenham Racecourse in 2019. (PA)

The government has insisted that former prime minister David Cameron did nothing wrong and “meticulously followed the rules” amid the ongoing lobbying scandal.

Number 10 has come under fire in recent weeks after it emerged that Cameron approached serving ministers to lobby for the involvement of Greensill Capital in government-backed financial support schemes during the pandemic. 

The effort saw Cameron, who was employed by the firm’s owner Lex Greensill in 2018, send text messages directly to chancellor Rishi Sunak

But environment secretary George Eustice said "no" when asked if Cameron did anything wrong.

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Asked about Cameron's conduct, Eustice told Sky News' Sophy Ridge On Sunday: "Well look, he himself has said that with hindsight it probably would have been better if, rather than texting ministers, if he had instead written letters to set out his views more formally.

"But I think the real point is, 'Has he done anything wrong?' Well, on the face of it, no. There's a review that is going on, we mustn't prejudge that."

George Eustice talks to Sophy Ridge (Sky News)
George Eustice talks to Sophy Ridge. (Sky News)

Pushed on whether Cameron exploited the rules, Eustice added: "I don't think he took advantage of any rules, no.

“He meticulously observed the rules there that he himself actually put in place after some concerns around lobbying a decade ago.

"He put in place these restrictions on what ministers can do for a period of two years.

"But look, he himself has conceded that with hindsight, if he had his time again, he wouldn't have texted Rishi Sunak and wouldn't have texted others – he would instead have written through formal channels."

Eustice also defended health secretary Matt Hancock, saying he also followed the rules when it came to declaring an interest in a family company that has contracts with the NHS.

Watch: The seven inquiries looking into government lobbying

Hancock declared in the MPs' register of interests in March that he owned more than 15% of shares in Topwood Limited, a firm that specialises in secure storage, shredding and scanning of documents.

Eustice said: "The reason we know about this is because Matt Hancock did what all ministers do in this case, which is to declare that interest.

"And so he did the right thing, he declared that – he had no role whatsoever around that business, so yes there is nothing wrong with ministers having financial interests, providing they declare them in the appropriate way."

Asked whether lobbying rules were "broken" if they allowed ministers to hold financial interests in companies making money from their government department's contracts, the cabinet minister replied: "I'm not sure I would agree with that.

"Ministers can move around a lot – famously we tend not to spend too long in one particular role."

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and former prime minister David Cameron during the Remembrance Sunday service at the Cenotaph memorial in Whitehall, central London.
Boris Johnson and David Cameron during the 2019 Remembrance Sunday service at the Cenotaph memorial in Whitehall. (PA)

On whether the government would be looking at making changes to lobbying rules, Eustice claimed the current system for declaring interests was "pretty good".

The environment secretary said: "I think the right thing is for these reviews to go through their process, to conclude, to work out exactly what did and what did not happen and then yes, of course there may come a time after that when it is right to consider tweaks to policy.

"But fundamentally, I think the systems we have in place with ministers declaring interests with the ministerial code and the focus on that and how ministers conduct themselves in office is actually a pretty good one.

"But that is not to say you couldn't make tweaks or changes, and also there will be a time and a place for that after these reviews have concluded."

Meanwhile, Labour MPs have said that "Tory sleaze is back" as the party led the criticism of the government.

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Shadow communities secretary Steve Reed told Sophy Ridge On Sunday: "From what I can see in all this is that the era of Tory sleaze is well and truly back.

"And what's happened with the Greensill scandal is really quite shocking."

Meanwhile, shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Rachel Reeves told the Andrew Marr Show on the BBC: "What we've seen this week is that Tory sleaze is back and that it is bigger than ever and we need real change to restore trust in our democracy and in the very essence of public service which matters to so many of us and matters to people in our country.

"What we want to see – we wanted this week, and that is why we had a vote on it – to have a proper inquiry."

Watch: David Cameron will respond 'positively' to any request for evidence

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