A piece in yesterday’s Times:
David Cameron has been forced to disclose details of the perks, pay and share options he received from the controversial finance firm Greensill while lobbying ministers on behalf of the company.
The former prime minister admitted that he had a “big economic investment” in the future of Greensill at the same time as he was urging the government to support the firm.
Under questioning from MPs on the Treasury select committee, Cameron said this included the use of the company’s private plane for “visits”, a larger salary than he earned in Downing Street and shares in the company.
He refused to disclose details of his full financial package, claiming it was private. However, he did not dispute a report in The Wall Street Journal that he made millions of dollars selling some of his shares in 2019.
In what he admitted was a “painful” appearance before his former colleagues, Cameron repeatedly denied that his lobbying had been motivated by money.
“I have spent most of my adult life in public service. I believe in it deeply,” he said. “I would never put forward something that I didn’t think was absolutely in the interest of the public good and that’s what I thought I was doing on Greensill’s behalf.”
But Cameron admitted that in hindsight his motives could have been “open to misinterpretation” and that someone in his position should have contacted ministers more formally.
“Ex-prime ministers are different and I think we should be looking at the rules because there’s no harm in trying to work out, is there more you could do?”
Cameron, who was giving evidence remotely from his Oxfordshire home, was pressed on the nature of his contact with Sir Tom Scholar , permanent secretary at the Treasury, who previously worked for the former prime minister in Downing Street.
In one text message, released earlier this week, Cameron signed off his message “Love DC” and was asked if this was appropriate.
Cameron replied: “With anyone I know even at all well, I tend to sign off text messages with ‘love DC’. I don’t know why, I just do. My children tell me that you don’t need to sign off for text messages at all and it’s very old-fashioned. But anyway that’s what I do.”
In an at times testy session, Cameron was pushed by the committee on his financial stake in Greensill.
He admitted he had been paid a “generous” amount by Greensill, including shares in the company, but he refused to tell MPs how much his shares would have been worth if the company had been successfully floated, saying it was a “private matter”.
“I was paid an annual amount, a generous annual amount, far more than what I earned as prime minister,” he said. “I had shares — not share options but shares in the business — which vested over the period of time of my contract.
“I had a big economic investment in the future of Greensill, so I wanted the business to succeed, I wanted it to grow.” He insisted that suggestions he would make £60 million were “completely absurd”.
He also admitted that he had use of Greensill private jet but could not remember on how many occasions. “I haven’t got a complete record of the use of the planes,” he said. “It was used quite a lot by Lex Greensill and sometimes myself on business visits. I did use it a handful of times on other visits.”
Cameron was pressed by the Treasury committee about when he first knew the Greensill was in financial trouble.
He insisted at the time of his lobbying in spring last year the company was in good financial shape.
“There was certainly no sense of jeopardy,” he told the committee despite a note of a meeting with the Bank of England at which the company said it was facing “significant pressure in the current market conditions”.
Cameron repeatedly insisted that his lobbying had been appropriate at the time because he believed the company had an offer that could help small British businesses.
“I thought very carefully before picking up the telephone and I thought the circumstances warranted it because they were unique,” he said.
“I really believed in the solution that we had and thought it would make a difference. That was my motivation.
“My motivation for contacting ministers and others was to help UK firms at this moment of difficulty, and to ensure that fintech firms, and Greensill in particular, were listened to as well as the major clearing banks.”
Angela Eagle , the Labour MP, told Cameron that she had read his text messages to ministers and officials and it came across as more like “stalking” than lobbying. “Are you at least a little bit embarrassed by the way you behaved?” she asked.
Cameron again insisted that, at the time, his actions were appropriate.
“It was a particularly acute time in the British economy,” he said. “The government was introducing plans to try and help businesses, [and] we thought we had a good idea.
“I was keen to get it in front of government but, as I said, there are lessons to learn and lessons for me to learn. In future the single formal email or formal letter would be appropriate.
“Obviously what’s happened is deeply regrettable and being part of a company that goes into administration is depressing, but never mind me, for the people who lost their jobs they had whole futures invested in this company being their future and it’s incredibly depressing to see it go wrong.”
David Cameron’s four-hour grilling by two parliamentary committees was high on political drama but did little to shed light on the murky finances of the company that funded his lifestyle (Oliver Wright writes).
Cameron insisted that he had done “due diligence” before becoming an adviser to Greensill.
However, despite entertaining potential clients, extensive use of the corporate jet and his lobbying of ministers, he appears not to have taken much interest in the company’s finances. He seemed to have little knowledge of Greensill’s reliance on the steel magnate Sanjeev Gupta. He was equally vague about its complex financial model and seemed to have asked few questions of his bosses.
The problem is that others are asking those questions. Administrators are unpicking Greensill’s finances to establish what, if anything, is left for its creditors. The Financial Conduct Authority confirmed this week that it was looking into “potentially criminal” allegations about the circumstances that led to the company’s failure. There are three parliamentary inquiries into various aspects of the scandal, while the National Audit Office is looking into Greensill’s involvement with the government.
The difficulty for Cameron is that the central plank of his defence is that Greensill was a noble venture and his lobbying was for the wider public good.
That may prove to be correct. If it is found that Greensill was in financial difficulty while Cameron was lobbying for support, however, he will be in an awkward position.
The jeopardy for Cameron is that, because he asked so few questions, he probably does not know where the truth lies either.
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