Labour accuse Boris Johnson of tolerating ‘sleaze’ as Tories whipped to oppose Greensill inquiry

Joe Murphy and Sophia Sleigh
·3-min read
Signage is seen outside the offices of collapsed finance firm Greensill near Warrington (AFP via Getty Images)
Signage is seen outside the offices of collapsed finance firm Greensill near Warrington (AFP via Getty Images)

Boris Johnson was accused by Labour of tolerating a “sleazy culture” today as he ordered Conservative MPs to vote against a Parliamentary inquiry into the Greensill Capital lobbying row.

The charge was thrown by shadow cabinet minister Rachel Reeves ahead of a Commons vote following claims that the collapsed finance house had preferential access to taxpayer loans because senior ministers were called by ex-PM David Cameron.

The controversy widened today, with fresh allegations that lax rules in Whitehall were allowing potential conflicts of interest involving serving civil servants.

It emerged that watchdogs declared there was “no conflict of interest” when a top civil servant started working for Greensill as part-time adviser while still working in Whitehall.

Bill Crothers was in charge of spending worth hundreds of millions of pounds yet was cleared for a part-time role. Later, he was able to work full-time for the firm without waiting two years, on the grounds that he already worked for the firm.

Lord Pickles, who heads the committee that rules on potential conflicts in new jobs, complained of a “lack of transparency” over the situation.

Lawyer Jolyon Maugham, of the Good Law Project, said a similar situation existed when former Tory chairman Lord Feldman had an unpaid role as adviser to Health Minister Lord Bethell “whilst also running a lobbying firm” with healthcare clients.

Jill Rutter, a senior research fellow at UK in a Changing Europe, told the Today programme that the revelations about Mr Crothers were surprising:

“Bill Crothers wasn’t just any civil servant, he was the head of a thing called the Crown Commercial Service which oversees all that government buying activity.

“Among other former civil servants that I know, there was an awful lot of eyebrow raising going on last night.”

She added: “I think this is a Government that doesn’t think it has to abide by the rules and that gets you into a whole bunch of trouble.”

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PA Archive

Ms Reeves told Times Radio that the rules around lobbying by ex-ministers needed tightening: “It just feels so sleazy, so un-transparent. It feels like if you have the number of the Chancellor, which most of us don’t have, you get access to millions of pounds for the businesses you are lobbying for.”

She added: “If there was greater transparency … I think things would be very different. I don’t think you would have this sort-of sleazy culture being allowed to develop. That’s why we need tougher rules.”

MPs were voting on Labour’s motion calling for a panel of MPs to investigate the Greensill controversy and to call witnesses including Mr Cameron in public.

However, the Government argued that its independent review headed by a top lawyer behind closed doors would be better.

Senior Tory MP Tobias Ellwood backed No 10. He told Times Radio: “Let’s see what happens with the review, it’s being done independently. That’s the process that we should do these things, not just jump on this bandwagon.”

He argued that MPs had “limited knowledge” and Labour’s move was “political opportunism”.

A No 10 source said: “We have set up an independent review into exactly how contracts were secured and how representatives engaged with government, including Greensill, and this has been expanded to look at the issues raised [Mr Crothers’ role] yesterday.”

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