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13 April 2021updated 23 Jul 2021 1:35pm

The government’s Greensill review is a distraction from the David Cameron lobbying scandal

Boris Johnson has no intention of changing the rules that allowed the former prime minister to lobby government ministers. 

By Ailbhe Rea

The UK government has announced an independent review into the Greensill scandal following revelations about David Cameron’s lobbying of senior ministers on behalf of the firm, and the access granted to Lex Greensill by the Cameron administration. 

The official announcement of the review states its intention to examine the decisions around supply chain finance in government, “especially the role of Lex Greensill and Greensill Capital”. It will, in particular, probe the Cameron era, investigating how the then-prime minister and the late cabinet secretary Jeremy Heywood, among others, came to grant Lex Greensill a role within government, what this role entailed, and whether the Cameron administration’s use of supply chain finance schemes in government policy (such as a scheme for low-cost loans to pharmacists) was good value for money or appropriate given concerns it could mask companies’ financial woes. 

The review will also look at communications between Greensill Capital and subsequent governments after Cameron’s departure from No 10, including at texts between the former PM and Rishi Sunak at the start of the pandemic, his private drink with Matt Hancock and Greensill in October 2019, and any other controversial communications with the current administration. Cameron has already been cleared by the lobbying watchdog of any rule-breaking (rules, bear in mind, that he made himself).

This story is expansive, with areas that could fall under different inquiries. It isn’t clear at this stage how far the review, which is led by City lawyer Nigel Boardman, will follow the long trail of Greensill Capital’s money, its role across Sanjeev Gupta’s business empire and elsewhere, and the international implications of Greensill’s collapse. Nor is it certain that the review, which will be conducted over just two months, will consider the broader implications and risks of supply chain finance and necessary regulation.  

But it’s already clear that this is not a comprehensive inquiry into lobbying, nor a landmark moment in which the rules or conventions that govern it will be changed. (Laura Kuenssberg has been told the scope is strictly limited to the Greensill affair and that the intention is “not to start a conversation about the rights and wrongs of lobbying, let alone to propose a new system”.) Given the nature of this scandal – one not so much about whether rules were broken as whether the rules themselves are adequate – it doesn’t seem likely this review will even touch the edges. ​

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The investigation could, of course, have a more significant impact than expected. But this isn’t a judge-led inquiry, but a “review” without statutory footing: its recommendations won’t be binding and it can’t compel people to give evidence. One is tempted to view this as an attempt by the government to get ahead of the story, ensuring that ministers have an easy answer to difficult questions when the media blackout following Prince Philip’s death comes to an end, and when they are called before parliament to answer questions, as they will be today. 

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[see also: Why the David Cameron lobbying scandal isn’t over]