Greensill lobbying row: Rishi Sunak releases text messages to David Cameron amid row over access


Rishi Sunak released messages he sent to former prime minister David Cameron tonight amid a furious lobbying row involving collapsed finance firm Greensill Capital.

The Treasury released the Chancellor’s texts after a freedom of information request into efforts by the ex-Tory leader to contact ministers in search of millions of pounds of extra Covid rescue cash.

Mr Cameron’s attempts on behalf of his employer were rebuffed and Greensill – run by Australian Lex Greensill – has filed for insolvency after failing to secure support through the Government’s Covid Corporate Financing Facility. 

But the ex-premier’s ability to contact ministers privately prompted a row over lobbying which intensified after he was cleared of breaking rules he himself introduced. 

Mr Sunak also confirmed Mr Cameron lobbied three ministers, including himself, over the matter of Greensill Capital’s access to a Covid support scheme.

In a letter sent to shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds tonight, he wrote: ‘I can confirm that David Cameron reached out informally by telephone to me, and to the Economic Secretary and the Financial Secretary, on the matter of Greensill Capital’s access to the CCFF (Covid Corporate Financing Facility).

‘The matter was referred to the relevant officials and, following appropriate consultations as outlined in the previous requests, the request was turned down.

‘During this process, this was communicated to Greensill Capital by officials and, in parallel, by me to David Cameron.’

The messages from Mr Sunak are sure to raise further questions about private communications between serving and former ministers. 

On April 3 last year, Mr Sunak wrote: ‘Hi David, thanks for your message. I am stuck back to back on calls but will try you later this evening and if gets too late, first thing tomorrow. Best, Rishi’ 

Almost three weeks later on 23rd April he messaged again, saying: ‘Hi David, apologies for the delay. I think the proposals in the end did require a change to the Market Notice but I have pushed the team to explore an alternative with the Bank that might work.  

‘No guarantees, but the Bank are currently looking at it and Charles should be in touch. Best, Rishi’.

 

The Treasury released the Chancellor's texts after a freedom of information request into efforts by the ex-Tory leader to contact ministers in search of millions of pounds of extra Covid rescue cash.

The Treasury released the Chancellor’s texts after a freedom of information request into efforts by the ex-Tory leader to contact ministers in search of millions of pounds of extra Covid rescue cash.

But the ex-premier's ability to contact ministers privately prompted a row over lobbying which intensified after he was cleared of breaking rules he himself introduced.

But the ex-premier’s ability to contact ministers privately prompted a row over lobbying which intensified after he was cleared of breaking rules he himself introduced.

Australian financier Lex Greensill, 44, (left seen walking his dog in Cheshire on April 5) reassured staff in an internal video on February 15 of the 'incredible strength' of a key set of funds it held with Zurich-based Credit Suisse, just before the plug was pulled

 Australian financier Lex Greensill, 44, (left seen walking his dog in Cheshire on April 5) reassured staff in an internal video on February 15 of the ‘incredible strength’ of a key set of funds it held with Zurich-based Credit Suisse, just before the plug was pulled

It is the latest twist and turn in a saga that has engulfed the heart of the Government and Conservative Party. 

Last week it it emerged the firm’s founder once had his own Downing Street business card, describing him as a ‘senior adviser’ in the ‘Prime Minister’s Office’. 

Mr Greensill had a No 10 email address during his three years as a financial adviser to the Cameron government, between 2012 and 2015, and a landline telephone number at Downing Street.

At the same time it was revealed that a senior civil servant went to work for Greensill without getting approval from the ethics watchdog.

Bill Crother was chief commercial officer under David Cameron’s premiership and worked alongside Lex Greensill, the firm’s founder, while he was an adviser to the PM.

Mr Crother took up a post with  Greensill Capital in 2016, a year after leaving Whitehall.  

Labour was today dragged into the Greensill scandal after it was revealed its shadow defence secretary John Healey lobbied ministers to hand the cash-strapped company £200million in COVID-19 loans ‘without delay’.

The shadow defence secretary wrote to Business Secretary Nadhim Zahawi in May 2020 urging him to give Greensill, run by Australian financier Lex Greensill and owners of Liberty Steel, greater access to the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme [CLBILS].

Mr Healey said Liberty needed the cash and ‘their application for CLBILS remains dependent on their lender, Greensill, being accredited for the higher cap loan scheme, which I trust can now be done without delay’.

But in spite of lobbying by Mr Healey and former prime minister David Cameron, who advised Greensill, Rishi Sunak’s Treasury capped the loans at £50million. 

Mr Healey told the Financial Times today that he felt his letter was the right thing to do as ‘the local constituency MP’ for Liberty Steel’s Rotherham plant, just as Labour demanded a new law on political lobbying and accused the Tories of being ‘consumed by cronyism’.

He said: ‘I was doing my job for the big Rotherham plant that Liberty had recently bought and expanded’. 

His involvement was revealed by Mr Sunak, who struck back yesterday via an aide who said: ‘A member of the Labour front bench was lobbying on behalf of Greensill to be accredited for the higher cap loan scheme’.

Shadow defence secretary John Healey lobbied the Business Secretary Nadhim Zahawi to hand Greensill £200million in COVID-19 loans 'without delay'. He claims he was protecting jobs in his constituency

Mr Healey wrote to Business Secretary Nadhim Zahawi in May 2020 urging him to give Greensill, owners of Liberty Steel, greater access to the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme [CLBILS].

Shadow defence secretary John Healey (left) lobbied the Business Secretary Nadhim Zahawi (right) to hand Greensill £200million in COVID-19 loans ‘without delay’. He claims he was protecting jobs in his constituency

Mr Healey told the Financial Times today that he felt his letter was the right thing to do as 'the local constituency MP' for Liberty Steel's Rotherham plant

Mr Healey told the Financial Times today that he felt his letter was the right thing to do as ‘the local constituency MP’ for Liberty Steel’s Rotherham plant

The collapse of Greensill has sent shockwaves across the City and Whitehall, dragging in David Cameron, who acted as an adviser to the firm, and raising questions about the access which Mr Greensill was given to top politicians and civil servants.

Plans to stop steel tycoon buying own plants on the cheap 

Jobs fears: Sanjeev Gupta employs around 5,000 people in the UK including 3,000 at Liberty Steel

Jobs fears: Sanjeev Gupta employs around 5,000 people in the UK including 3,000 at Liberty Steel

Liberty Steel boss Sanjeev Gupta will be prevented from buying back his plants at bargain prices if they go bust, under plans being drawn up by the Government.

The metals magnate’s empire has been left on the brink of collapse after its largest lender Greensill Capital, which David Cameron worked for, imploded.

He is scrambling to raise cash after ministers rejected a £170million bailout of Liberty’s parent company GFG Alliance last month.

Whitehall officials are reportedly now concerned Mr Gupta might declare his steel business insolvent and later try to repurchase it.

This is a process known as ‘phoenixing’ – which company directors are strongly advised against doing. GFG employs 5,000 people in the UK, of which 3,000 are steelworkers spread across 12 sites.

Boris Johnson has said he is ‘very hopeful’ that the Government can save Liberty and all options – including nationalisation – are on the table.

To block Mr Gupta from potentially buying back parts of Liberty, officials are considering appointing accounting firm Deloitte to handle a possible insolvency that would carve it out from the rest of the company, according to The Sunday Times.

A GFG spokesman said: ‘Liberty Steel UK is undertaking significant self-help measures… working with our customers to achieve terms that will bring in cash earlier.’

 

It has also put thousands of jobs across Britain’s steel industry at risk, as the GFG Alliance – a network of businesses including Liberty Steel run by tycoon Sanjeev Gupta – relied heavily on Greensill for funding.

James Murray MP, Labour’s Shadow Financial Secretary to the Treasury, responding to the Chancellor’s latest deflections over Greensill, said: ‘This is desperate stuff from the Chancellor. By trying to deflect attention from his own decisions, he’s just reminded everyone that his own department had multiple meetings with Greensill last spring.

‘The Chancellor needs to stop trying to pass the buck and start answering questions about why he opened the door to Greensill to lend through the CLBILS Covid loan scheme in the first place, putting hundreds of millions of pounds of public money at risk.

‘And he still hasn’t explained why the Treasury was planning to expand supply chain financing on his watch.’

Yesterday it emerged that the founder of Greensill Capital boasted that his firm had ‘enormous’ amounts of money to lend out just weeks before it collapsed.

Lex Greensill, an Australian banker who is now at the centre of a political storm over his ties to the establishment, reassured staff that the firm was in a strong position in a video call on February 15.

But less than a month later, administrators were appointed to the lender as it admitted it could no longer keep running. 

On the video call in February, a recording of which was obtained by the Financial Times, Mr Greensill said: ‘We’ve got enormous amounts of liquidity that are available to us.’

He added that the ‘markets are very much behind us’, and that investors were becoming increasingly interested in his business.

But less than two months later, the majority of Greensill’s 1,000-plus staff in the UK were made redundant.

It specialised in supply chain financing, meaning it worked with major corporates like GFG and Vodafone to pay their suppliers quickly, in return for a fee.

Greensill was effectively lending to the companies, and would be repaid at a later date when they had more cash freed up.

Greensill then bundled up these loans and sold packages of them to investors, through major asset managers such as Credit Suisse.

Mr Greensill, 44, told staff in February: ‘One of the things that is a really important detail for us to be aware of is just the incredible strength that we’ve got in our supply chain finance funds.

‘Those funds have continued to see robust inflows – indeed we’ve actually had to slow down the inflows.’

Even Qatar’s former prime minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, had invested in Greensill loans to the tune of £145 million, according to Bloomberg. He will now be bracing for heavy losses.

Greensill hit the rocks when it revealed that its insurer had failed to renew a vital insurance policy, and it was not able to find a replacement.

The insurance gave investors the confidence to hand Greensill money – it covered any losses which they would have suffered if any of Greensill’s borrowers had failed to repay their loan.

Pressure was growing on Boris Johnson to introduce a lobbying law last night as David Cameron faced more questions about his closeness to a controversial financier (File image)

Pressure was growing on Boris Johnson to introduce a lobbying law last night as David Cameron faced more questions about his closeness to a controversial financier (File image) 

But when this cover expired, investors such as Credit Suisse refused to give Greensill any more money to lend out.

Mr Greensill told staff on the February call that a one of its insurers, Chubb, was ‘very supportive’ of agreeing a ‘tweak’ to its policy which would give investors ‘100 per cent insurance with no gap in cover’.

He said that top staff at Greensill were doing ‘great work with our friends at [insurance broker] Marsh and with Chubb’.

But it seems that the tweak was never made, precipitating the lender’s failure just weeks later.

Now GFG, one of Greensill’s biggest customers, is teetering on the brink of collapse and has been denied a £170m Government bailout. It is also refusing to make any repayments on its loans owed to Greensill.

A bloody legal battle is expected to ensue over who should bear the losses between Greensill’s administrators, its customers such as GFG, its insurers, banks such as Credit Suisse and the end investors who ploughed money into Greensill loans.

The collapse has dragged Mr Cameron back into the public eye, after it emerged he had texted Chancellor Rishi Sunak trying to get Greensill special access to emergency Covid loans.

MPs across the House of Commons have also called for an investigation into what access Mr Greensill was given to senior politicians, after it emerged he had regular meetings with officials in Whitehall and had even helped Mr Cameron’s government form a lending scheme for NHS pharmacies.

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