David Cameron’s involvement with finance firm Greensill Capital “was not relevant”, Rishi Sunak has said, as he told MPs all requests from businesses for economic support were dealt with “on merit”.
The chancellor said the identity of someone who presented a request for financial assistance during the pandemic had no impact on the “attention and proper due diligence” it got amid the ongoing Greensill lobbying row.
Speaking at a Treasury select committee hearing on Thursday, Mr Sunak added that it was “entirely right” that officials should have considered any proposal, including those from the former prime minister, to help businesses given the scale of the impact of COVID-19.
Earlier this month, the Treasury released two text messages sent by Mr Sunak to Mr Cameron.
The messages, sent by Mr Cameron to the chancellor’s private phone in 2020, show the ex-PM asking for help for finance firm Greensill Capital where he worked as an adviser.
In the texts, Mr Sunak told Mr Cameron – who got a job for the company upon leaving office – his request for access to government-backed loans was being examined.
Greensill Capital, which filed for insolvency in March, was run by Lex Greensill – a former adviser to Mr Cameron during his time in Number 10.
Correspondence was also sent from Mr Cameron to two other treasury ministers about the firm.
Mr Cameron, who was in Number 10 from 2010 to 2016, said he broke “no codes of conduct and no government rules”.
But, in a written statement, did acknowledge “communications with the government need to be done through only the most formal of channels, so there can be no room for misinterpretation”.
Pressed on how allocations of support were made at the Treasury Committee hearing on Thursday, the chancellor said: “We look at the issue and I look at the issue on the merits of it.
“And so the identity of the person talking about it was not relevant to the amount of attention and proper due diligence got and required.”
Regarding his correspondences with Mr Cameron, Mr Sunak said: “Actually everything that… my interaction with David Cameron has been disclosed through the various FOIs (Freedom of Information requests) and other things.”
Mr Sunak told MPs that the total of his interaction with the former prime minister “is in the public domain”.
He said it was “a surprise” to receive a message from the former Conservative leader, adding: “I don’t know David Cameron very well at all.”
Asked by Conservative Anthony Browne whether he agrees with Mr Cameron that lessons should be learned, the chancellor said: “No I don’t.
“As I said, I stand very firmly behind the approach we took. I think it was entirely right that we considered the proposals on their merits given the context at the time and I stand by the decision we made not to take the proposals forward.”
Meanwhile, the Treasury’s top official gave permission for Mr Cameron to share his replies to 23 lobbying texts sent to him by the former PM after his phone was wiped and all its data deleted.
In response to a Freedom of Information request last week, the Treasury said all correspondences between permanent secretary to the Treasury Sir Tom Scholar and Mr Cameron were deleted as a security default after his password was wrongly entered multiple times.
Appearing in front of the committee before Mr Sunak, Sir Tom said: “I will seek to get from him [David Cameron] my messages and then we will release those in line with the [Freedom of Information] Act.”
Sir Tom added that his phone deletes all its content “something like once a year”.
Asked whether more attention was given to Greensill’s request for financial support more than other companies because of Mr Cameron’s involvement, Sir Tom replied: “No.”
Correspondence previously provided by Mr Cameron and released by the Treasury committee show the former PM texted Sir Tom on 3 April 2020 to say he was “genuinely baffled” at the department’s refusal to grant Greensill access to the COVID Corporate Financing Facility (CCFF).
Eight minutes later, Mr Cameron sent a text to Mr Sunak, saying: “Rishi, David Cameron here. Can I have a very quick word at some point? Call any time on this number.”
Another message from Mr Cameron to Sir Tom, sent last March, read: “I am riding to the rescue with Supply Chain Finance with my friend Lex Greensill – my new job [REDACTED]. See you with Rishi’s for an elbow bump or foot tap. Love Dc.”
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