Former British prime minister David Cameron has admitted he made mistakes over his government lobbying for Greensill Capital, as he tried to distance himself from the controversy over the financial group’s collapse.
In his first public comments on the affair, Cameron said on Sunday he was right to lobby for Greensill to gain access to a Bank of England Covid-19 loan scheme, but admits it was wrong to do so by sending text messages to Rishi Sunak, the chancellor.
“There are important lessons to be learnt,” he said in a written statement. “As a former prime minister, I accept that communications with government need to be done through only the most formal of channels, so there can be no room for misinterpretation.”
Cameron also tried to distance himself from the collapse of the business created by the Australian financier Lex Greensill, and the loans made by the group to the GFG metals business run by Sanjeev Gupta.
Loans to Gupta’s company from Greensill Capital that were later sold to Credit Suisse investors were made on the basis of invoices that have raised suspicions of fraud, the FT revealed last week.
“It’s important to understand that I was not on the board of Greensill Capital, nor was I a member of the risk or credit committees,” Cameron said. “I played no role in the decisions to extend credit, or the terms on which such credit was extended, to GFG or any other customer.”
Cameron also distanced himself from the decision to bring the Greensill founder into the heart of government while he was prime minister, charged with offering finance to companies in the government supply chain.
“Lex Greensill was brought in to work with the government by the former cabinet secretary, Jeremy Heywood, in 2011,” Cameron said. “He was not a political appointee, but part of the civil service drive to improve government efficiency.”
“The truth is, I had very little to do with Lex Greensill at this stage — as I recall, I met him twice at most in the entirety of my time as prime minister,” Cameron said. “The idea of my working for Greensill was never raised, or considered by me, until well after I left office.”
Cameron’s critics, including Labour MPs, claim he abused his position as a former prime minister to try to win preferential treatment for Greensill.
Some have suggested that his lobbying for the company was motivated by the prospect of a huge payout of perhaps £60m. “My remuneration was partly in the form of a grant of shares,” Cameron said. “Their value was nowhere near the amount speculated in the press.” Those options are now worthless.
“I was not a director of the company, and was not involved in the oversight of management, or the day to day running of the business. I was contracted to work for the company for 25 days per year,” he said.
He said he was right to lobby the Treasury since Greensill wanted funds to pass on to small companies struggling with the Covid crisis, and texting the chancellor in the midst of the crisis seemed appropriate at the time.
Cameron had previously refused to comment on his role at Greensill Capital, which collapsed on March 8, in spite of growing criticism over his lobbying activities for the fintech firm.
His comments on Sunday closely reflect views reported by the Financial Times last week as having been conveyed in remarks by Cameron to friends.
The former prime minister became an adviser for the company in 2018 and went on to lobby Conservative ministers — including Sunak — using texts to private mobile numbers.
He tried in vain to persuade Sunak to admit Greensill to a Bank of England Covid-19 loan scheme, but Labour claims the company gained special access to ministers and officials because of Cameron’s lobbying.
Greensill was granted nine meetings with Charles Roxburgh, the second most senior Treasury official, at the height of the first wave of the pandemic, before the firm’s attempt to join the BoE scheme was rejected.
Cameron says he did not break any rules. The Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists, the industry watchdog, said the former prime minister was not covered by its rules because he was a Greensill employee, not a third party lobbyist.