Banker Lex Greensill was gifted “extraordinarily privileged” access to the U.K. government, allowing him “to promote a product which did not, in fact, provide material benefits,” an official review concluded Thursday.
The review, by lawyer and former government adviser Nigel Boardman, comes amid fresh scrutiny of lobbying and transparency arrangements in the U.K. after it was reported that former Prime Minister David Cameron, hired as an adviser to Greensill, repeatedly pressed senior officials and ministers for access to a state-run coronavirus lending scheme.
Greensill’s collapse in March put jobs at a major steel manufacturer at risk and prompted the U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority to launch an investigation into its “potentially criminal” failure.
Boardman’s review looked into Greensill’s interactions with the U.K. government, first as a roving adviser on supply-chain finance during Cameron’s time in office, and then as the company lobbying Whitehall departments once the former prime minister had left government.
The review chief, a government non-executive director who stepped down to conduct the review, reserved much of his criticism for the late Jeremy Heywood, who served as the U.K.’s most senior civil servant and died of cancer in 2018.
Boardman found Heywood was “primarily responsible for Mr Greensill being given a role in government,” and noted that potential conflicts of interest “should have been considered more fully” in the process of appointing Greensill to his government job.
The financier, Boardman said, was “not only given access through Lord Heywood’s introductions to several departments in Whitehall” but was “also able to leverage his position, using the facilities of No. 10 [Downing Street], to hold meetings with major companies.”
His work in government “could have been of benefit to his incipient business and was of immediate benefit to his former employer, Citibank,” for whom Heywood had previously worked, Boardman concludes, but its value to the public was questionable.
Heywood’s widow Suzanne has already accused Boardman of making the late cabinet secretary, who was seen as invaluable by successive prime ministers, “the fall guy for events that occurred long after his death.”
Cameron ‘did not breach’ rules
Cameron, who bombarded ministers and officials with messages in 2020 as Greensill tried to secure access to the Treasury scheme, “did not breach the current lobbying rules and his actions were not unlawful,” Boardman found.
Under Westminster’s existing lobbying transparency set-up, only a small portion of lobbyists — those working as third-party, “consultant” influencers — are required to register their activity. Britain’s revolving door watchdog, the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, can publicly admonish ex-ministers for lobbying, but cannot sanction them.
Cameron told the review that his methods of communication — through text messages and emails — were “not the right way for a former prime minister to engage with government” — and Boardman says he “should have considered further the impact of his frequent contacts with government during a time of crisis.”
Boardman was not asked to come up with plans to reform the U.K.’s lobbying set-up, and separate inquiries by U.K. lawmakers continue.
He acknowledges arguments that Whitehall’s processes for managing outside approaches are “insufficiently transparent,” and says “some of these observations are justified” by the Greensill saga, repeating a call for clearer guidance on how government appoints people from the outside.
But while those lobbying the government “used strong methods,” Boardman says the low take-up of supply chain finance schemes in government — and the fact the Treasury rejected Cameron’s approaches — “attests to the fact that ministers and civil servants made the proper” call. The U.K.’s “current system and those operating within it worked well,” he finds.
In a statement, Cameron welcomed the review, saying it “provides further confirmation that I broke no rules” and “makes plain that I was not responsible for bringing Lex Greensill into Government or any of the arrangements connected to this.”
He added: “I was open about my relationship with Greensill Capital, and acknowledge the importance of being explicit in this regard.”
Labour, however, branded the report a “classic Boris Johnson cover-up and whitewash to protect the government.”
Deputy leader Angela Rayner argued Britain’s lobbying rules “do more harm than good by giving a veil of legitimacy to the rampant cronyism, sleaze and dodgy lobbying that is polluting our democracy under the Tories.”
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