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Sunak in the frame over ex-PM's lobby hobby

MPs call for probe into Chancellor's ‘informal’ lobbying call with David Cameron

MPs ARE calling for an investigation of Rishi Sunak’s role in “pushing” officials to consider Covid cash grab proposals from finance firm Greensill Capital, following an “informal” lobbying call with David Cameron.  

The Chancellor said the former prime minister “reached out informally by telephone” to him, Economic Secretary John Glen and Financial Secretary Jesse Norman, over emergency Covid support for the collapsed company.

Greensill had approached Treasury officials regarding access to the Covid Corporate Finance Facility (CCFF), administered by the Bank of England.

Mr Sunak said the meetings covered requests by Greensill to change the terms of the scheme or broaden its scope to give the company access, both of which were rejected.

Greensill subsequently filed for insolvency, putting thousands of British steelmaking jobs at risk and rendering Mr Cameron’s reported tens of millions of share options worthless.

Mr Sunak defended the decision to listen to the requests on the grounds he wanted to help businesses survive the pandemic, before confirming Mr Cameron’s lobbying activities in a letter to shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds.

The Treasury also revealed his messages to Mr Cameron in April 2020 reading: “I have pushed the team to explore an alternative with the bank that might work.”

The government has withheld messages sent by Mr Cameron.

Labour questioned whether Mr Sunak had broken the ministerial code, while the SNP urged him to appear before Parliament next week to “set the record straight” over his full exchanges with Mr Cameron. 

Ms Dodds said: “These messages raise very serious questions about whether the Chancellor may have broken the ministerial code.

“They suggest that Greensill Capital got accelerated treatment and access to officials, and that the Chancellor ‘pushed’ officials to consider Greensill’s requests.

“The Chancellor’s decision to open the door to Greensill Capital has put public money at risk.

“There must be a full, transparent and thorough investigation into the chain of events that saw Greensill awarded lucrative contracts, the freedom of Whitehall and the right to lend millions of pounds of government-backed Covid loans.”

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said: “Shame the Chancellor couldn’t ‘push the team’ for the millions of people excluded from support for a year, the kids who have gone hungry and workers in the north who were told they were only worth 66 per cent of the minimum wage for furlough.”

SNP Cabinet Office spokesman Stewart Hosie said Boris Johnson’s government is “stumbling from one scandal to the next,” adding: “Tory ministers and former prime ministers casually texting each other over government access utterly reeks.

“When MPs return from recess, Rishi Sunak must come before Parliament and set the record straight over his full exchange with David Cameron and what the outcome of those messages was.”

Keep Our NHS Public (KONP) co-chairman Dr John Puntis told the Star: “That Conservative ministers are susceptible to lobbying from influential friends on behalf of dodgy companies such as Greensill Capital cannot really be a surprise given the cronyism that has characterised the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. 

“What will be distressing to NHS staff, offered only a pay cut in recognition of their prodigious efforts, is the clear signal from those in power that yet again, far from being focused on justice for millions of workers, they remain distracted by the challenging problem of how best to divert taxpayers’ money to party supporters and donors.”

The Chancellor was defended by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, who insisted that Mr Sunak had followed the ministerial code “absolutely to the letter.”

Mr Cameron has been exonerated by a watchdog over the issue.

The Treasury has been asked to comment.

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