How bad is the Greensill scandal for Rishi Sunak?

Labour have seized on the Cameron-Greensill affair as a way to undermine Sunak’s reputation.

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Does Rishi Sunak still have questions to answer about his role in the Greensill affair?

The Chancellor has been forced to release the texts he sent to David Cameron, after Cameron lobbied him for more funds for the troubled company as it teetered on the brink of collapse. 

Two parts of the conversation are, for the moment, missing. Firstly, the messages that Cameron sent to Sunak, which the Treasury is at present refusing to release, saying they have an exemption under the Freedom of Information Act. Secondly, what, exactly, Sunak asked Treasury officials to do.

[See also: David Cameron’s Greensill scandal puts Westminster lobbying under the spotlight]

Greensill’s requests for more cash were ultimately rebuffed, and you can read the information we have at the moment in two ways. The first is that the real story behind his message to Cameron that he had “pushed the team” to get an answer was a way of fobbing off his former leader and passing the buck of having to say “no” on to his officials. The second is that he really did push the team to accommodate Greensill. 

[Hear more on the New Statesman podcast]

Labour, of course, want the second view to win out. While Boris Johnson is basking in the glow of the vaccine bounce at the moment, in the long term, it is surely Sunak who is Labour's biggest threat. If Labour can get the charge that Sunak is either corrupt or simply weak-willed to stick, then it will have done real damage to its most dangerous opponent. 

[See also: David Cameron’s lobbying shows businesses should be wary of friends in high places]

The next line in the battle will be over Cameron’s texts. To uphold it in court, the government would have to prove two things: that Cameron had a reasonable expectation of confidentiality in his messages about Greensill and that Cameron would successfully be able to bring legal action against the government for publishing the texts. That’s quite a high bar, and one that the government can have no confidence in clearing. The Greensill affair could yet undermine Sunak’s reputation just as it is surely undermining Cameron’s. 

[See also: Could David Cameron face criminal charges for lobbying?]

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics. He also co-hosts the New Statesman podcast.

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