Boris Johnson has ordered an independent investigation into the Greensill scandal that engulfed his predecessor David Cameron, fearing he had exposed a lax lobbying culture in Whitehall.
Cameron has been criticized for his private lobbying efforts as a senior advisor to bankrupt finance firm Greensill Capital. These included texts addressed to Chancellor Rishi Sunak on behalf of the company, arranging a “private” drink with Health Secretary Matt Hancock and calls with senior officials.
The investigation will be overseen by the Cabinet Office and Johnson has called for it to be conducted “thoroughly and expeditiously”. The prime minister’s spokesperson said he wanted to make sure the government was acting “in a fully transparent manner.”
The investigation will be led by Nigel Boardman, former partner at Slaughter and May and non-executive director of the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. The investigation is expected to be completed at the end of June.
Johnson spokesman said the Boardman inquiry would look at “supply chain finance issues and the role Greensill played” as well as “how the contracts were secured.”
A spokesman for Cameron said the former prime minister welcomed the investigation and “would be happy to participate.”
Boardman, an experienced lawyer and son of a conservative peer, will have full access to government documents but will not have legal powers in connection with the investigation.
Whitehall ministers and special advisers have been contacted by Cabinet Office officials to provide full details of any contact they have had with Cameron.
Johnson’s decision to launch an investigation into the conduct of a predecessor is unprecedented in recent times. Whitehall officials expressed surprise at the wide scope of the Boardman investigation, with one describing it as “a little messy.”
The last major investigation Johnson ordered was an investigation into the intimidation charges against Home Secretary Priti Patel. But the prime minister disagreed with the findings of the inquiry and his own independent advisor on ministerial standards and chose not to sack Patel.
The opposition Labor Party accused the Tories of “another cover-up” and said the party “could not be trusted once again to mark its own homework”.
Rachel Reeves, the shadow cabinet minister, said: “Much like the investigation into the alleged bullying of Priti Patel, this is another attempt by the Conservative government to push bad behavior into the long grass. and hope the British public forgets.
Cameron’s lobbying efforts had led to cross-party calls for regulatory reform. Gordon Brown, who was Prime Minister from 2007 to 2010, has suggested a five-year ban on lobbying for prime ministers who have left Downing Street.
“I don’t really think that former ministers and prime ministers should lobby for particular business enterprises, when they put pressure on their successors whom they know very well and to whom they could have privileged access,” he said. he told the BBC.
Sir Bernard Jenkin, a longtime Conservative MP who chairs Parliament’s influential liaison committee, called the scandal “quite corrosive” and called for reform.
“This very informal way of dealing with very important issues and the distribution of public money – well, I don’t think the public thinks that is acceptable,” he said.
Senior Tories noted that the dispute has rekindled a long-standing rivalry between Johnson and Cameron that dates back to their studies at Eton College and Oxford University.
A senior Tory MP said, “Boris is taking revenge on Dave.” Another former Tory minister said: ‘Boris will love nothing more than throwing Dave under the bus.’
The scrutiny of government conduct is expected to intensify on Tuesday, when Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng faces questions about his relationship with Liberty Steel, which was backed by Greensill Capital.
Labor has also tabled an urgent question in the House of Commons, demanding that the government answer questions about the Large Business Coronavirus Work Interruption Loan Program (CBLIS).
The FT revealed last week that loans to Greensill Capital’s company Sanjeev Gupta which were later sold to Credit Suisse investors were granted on the basis of suspicious invoices that raised suspicions of fraud.