Boris Johnson has ordered an independent inquiry into the Greensill scandal that has engulfed his predecessor David Cameron amid concerns it has exposed a lax lobbying culture in Whitehall
Cameron has been criticised for his private lobbying efforts as a senior adviser to collapsed finance company Greensill Capital. These included texts to chancellor Rishi Sunak on the company’s behalf, arranging a “private” drink with health secretary Matt Hancock and calls with senior officials.
The investigation will be overseen by the Cabinet Office and Johnson has requested it be conducted “thoroughly and promptly”. The prime minister’s spokesperson said he wanted to ensure the government was acting “completely transparently”.
The inquiry will be led by Nigel Boardman, a former partner at Slaughter and May and a non-executive director at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. The probe is expected to be concluded by the end of June.
Johnson’s spokesperson said the Boardman inquiry would examine “issues of supply chain finance and the role Greensill played” as well as “the way contracts were secured”.
A spokesperson for Cameron said that the former prime minister welcomed the inquiry and “will be glad to take part”.
Boardman, an experienced lawyer and son of a Tory peer, will have full access to government documents but will not have legal powers as part of the inquiry.
Ministers and special advisers across Whitehall have been contacted by Cabinet Office officials to submit full details of any contact they had with Cameron.
Johnson’s move to launch an investigation into the conduct of a predecessor is without precedent in recent times. Whitehall officials expressed surprise at the wide remit of the Boardman inquiry, with one describing it as “a bit of a mess”.
The last large inquiry commissioned by Johnson was an investigation into bullying accusations against the home secretary, Priti Patel. But the prime minister disagreed with the findings of the investigation and his own independent adviser on ministerial standards and opted not to sack Patel.
The opposition Labour party accused the Conservatives of “another cover-up” and said the party “can’t be trusted to yet again mark their own homework”.
Rachel Reeves, the shadow Cabinet Office minister, said: “Just as with the inquiry into Priti Patel’s alleged bullying, this is another Conservative government attempt to push bad behaviour into the long grass and hope the British public forgets.”
Cameron’s lobbying efforts had led to cross party calls for regulatory reform. Gordon Brown, who served as prime minister from 2007 to 2010, has suggested a five-year ban on lobbying for prime ministers who have exited Downing Street.
“I don’t really think former ministers and prime ministers should be engaged in lobbying for particular commercial companies, when they are lobbying their successors whom they know very well and could have privileged access to,” he told the BBC.
Sir Bernard Jenkin, a longstanding Conservative MP who chairs parliament’s influential Liaison Committee, described the scandal as “pretty corrosive” and called for reform.
“This very informal way of conducting relationships about very important matters and the distribution of public money — well, I don’t think the public thinks that’s acceptable,” he said.
Senior Conservatives noted that the dispute had reignited a long standing rivalry between Johnson and Cameron that dates back to their education at Eton College and Oxford university.
One senior Tory MP said: “Boris is getting his vengeance on Dave.” Another former Conservative minister said: “Boris will love nothing more than throwing Dave under the bus.”
Scrutiny of the government’s conduct is likely to increase on Tuesday, when business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng faces questions on its relationship with Liberty Steel, which was backed by Greensill Capital.
Labour has also tabled an urgent question in the House of Commons, demanding the government answer questions about the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBLIS).
The FT revealed last week that loans to Sanjeev Gupta’s company from Greensill Capital that were later sold to Credit Suisse investors were made on the basis of suspect invoices that have raised suspicions of fraud.