Johnson defends Civil Service as Westminster lobbying row continues

David Hughes and Emma Bowden
·3-min read

Boris Johnson has sought to play down the extent of links between Whitehall and the private sector, insisting there are not “loads of people” working as civil servants while also employed by a business.

The Prime Minister has asked lawyer Nigel Boardman to investigate after it emerged that former government procurement chief Bill Crothers worked as an adviser for Greensill Capital while in his Whitehall job.

Greensill, which collapsed in March, also employed former prime minister David Cameron – who lobbied ministers on behalf of the firm.

Greensill
Boris Johnson said he had not had any recent contact with David Cameron (David Parry/PA)

Mr Johnson, who said he has had no recent contact with Mr Cameron, said Mr Boardman will look at “the whole thing” after a series of organisations announced investigations into the lobbying row.

The Prime Minister told reporters on a campaign visit to Gloucestershire: “I just want to stress one thing to people who are sort of vaguely tuning in to this.

“People should not, in my view, form the impression that the upper echelons of the British Civil Service have got loads of people who are double-hatting, as it were, doing two jobs – it just isn’t true.

“We’ve got one of the best civil services in the world.

“They are fantastically hard-working people, they have been doing an amazing job throughout this Covid pandemic, apart from anything else, and I just wouldn’t want people to get that impression. It is simply not the case.”

Watch: Firm linked to lawyer leading Greensill lobbying inquiry given £7m in government contracts

Cabinet Secretary Simon Case last week ordered Whitehall department chiefs to declare any instances of senior officials performing dual roles outside the Civil Service.

Meanwhile, the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee gave details of its own investigation into the lobbying row, which will look at whether existing rules and penalties are tough enough.

The terms of reference published by the committee note the collapse of Greensill Capital and revelations about its relationship with ministers and Whitehall “have raised significant concerns about the propriety of governance in this country” which “risks undermining public trust”.

Committee chairman William Wragg MP said: “Standards in public life are vitally important, and I think most politicians and civil servants fulfil their roles honourably.

“Maintaining and defending that honourable position matters – that’s precisely why this affair has to be scrutinised.

“We will look into whether the rules need tightening up and clarifying and we will make any necessary recommendations without fear or favour.”

William Wragg
William Wragg’s Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee is looking into the row (Chris McAndrew/UK Parliament/PA)

The MPs will examine whether codes of conduct for ministers, special advisers and officials are effective, how conflicts of interest are managed and whether the business appointment rules are broad enough.

The committee will also examine how lobbying should be regulated and consider the issues around the use of consultants and contractors in government.

A series of investigations have now been launched into the role Mr Cameron played in securing Whitehall access for Lex Greensill, whose firm was selected as an intermediary lender for some Government Covid-19 support loans at the start of the pandemic, and whose collapse now risks thousands of jobs, particularly in the steel sector.

Watch: Dodds calls for transparency in Greensill lobbying review