‘This is a painful day’: Ex-PM David Cameron grilled over Greensill lobbying role

Former premier refuses to reveal his pay during questioning by MPs

Former British prime minister David Cameron speaking during his appearance before the Treasury Committee. AFP
Former British prime minister David Cameron speaking during his appearance before the Treasury Committee. AFP

Embattled former British prime minister David Cameron refused repeatedly to reveal his pay from collapsed finance company Greensill Capital as he was grilled by MPs over his lobbying activities.

Mr Cameron said he was paid more than his £150,000 salary as prime minister and received shares but denied that he was motivated by personal gain when he bombarded ministers with messages urging them to increase the firm’s access to state-backed coronavirus loan schemes.

“I had a big economic investment in the future of Greensill,” Mr Cameron said at the start of a two-hour grilling. “I don’t think the amount is particularly germane.”

Mr Cameron became an adviser to Greensill Capital – headed by Australian financier Lex Greensill – in 2018 and claimed that lobbying was not considered part of his job.

But the financial crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic prompted Mr Cameron to send dozens of texts and emails to senior ministers and officials asking for their help for Greensill to get access to the support programmes. His efforts were unsuccessful.

Many of the messages were published this week and highlight how Mr Cameroon used flattery and his established networks to try to promote the company’s cause.

One to former Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said: "I know you are manically busy – and doing a great job, by the way (this is bloody hard and I think the team is coping extremely well). But do you have a moment for a word? I am on this number and v free. All good wishes Dc."

In another message to the Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Mr Cameron complained that the Treasury’s objections to Greensill’s bid were “nuts” and put it down to a “simple misunderstanding”.

The collapse of the company and the role of Mr Cameron in using government contacts to secure help led to a series of probes into lobbying.

Mr Cameron insisted on Thursday that he did not know of the problems facing the company when he sent the messages in March to May. He told the committee that he did not believe there was any danger of the company failing until December 2020.

He said that his motivation for contacting the government was to pass on “good ideas to help with the credit crisis”.

"I have spent most of my adult life in public service," he said. "I believe in it deeply. I would never put forward something that I didn't believe was absolutely in the interests of the public good.

"I did not believe in March or April last year when I was doing this contact there was a risk of Greensill falling over."

The issue is particularly embarrassing for Mr Cameron who introduced new lobbying rules after a speech in 2010 in which he criticised the “lunches, the hospitality, the quiet word in your ear, the ex-ministers and ex-advisers for hire, helping big business find the right way to get its way”.

Mr Cameron admitted that his appearance before the MPs was a “painful day” during a long-running saga that has further tainted the legacy of a man who as leader fought against Brexit and lost.

He has insisted his lobbying activities broke no rules although he has accepted there were lessons to be learned.

Asked if he regretted his involvement in Greensill, Mr Cameron did not reply directly but said he'd considered “what different choices” he could have made.

Greensill was the biggest backer of GFG – the owner of the UK's third largest steelmaker Liberty Steel – and its failure put thousands of jobs at risk as GFG seeks to refinance.

Appearing before the Treasury Committee on Tuesday, Mr Greensill said he was "truly sorry" and took full responsibility for what happened.

Published: May 13, 2021 07:39 PM

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