David Cameron demonstrated a “significant lack of judgement” in lobbying the British government on behalf of finance firm Greensill, a cross-party group of lawmakers found.
The former U.K. prime minister is criticized in a fresh report by the House of Commons Treasury committee, which finds that the government acted properly in rejecting Cameron’s advances but should have pushed him to use “more formal lines of communication” in exchanges with top officials and ministers.
Cameron, who left office after the Brexit referendum in 2016, has been at the center of a major lobbying row in the U.K. after it emerged he pressed senior government figures to include Greensill Capital — a supply-chain finance specialist that employed him as an adviser — in a government coronavirus lending scheme.
Greensill collapsed earlier this year, putting jobs at a steel manufacturer at risk and prompting the U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority to launch an investigation into its “potentially criminal” failure.
The former prime minister’s lobbying efforts included a volley of text messages to former government colleagues, as well as current Chancellor Rishi Sunak, which Cameron has since conceded were not appropriate.
“The Committee concludes that Mr Cameron’s use of less formal means to lobby Government showed a significant lack of judgement on his part, especially as his ability to use an informal approach was aided by his previous position of Prime Minister,” the report says.
The finance ministry is urged to “put in place and publish formal processes to deal with lobbying attempts by ex-Prime Ministers or Ministers” and the committee says there is now a “good case” for strengthening Britain’s lobbying laws, which did not require Cameron to register any of his activity.
The Treasury, it says, “should have encouraged Mr Cameron into more formal methods of communication” early on in his lobbying efforts.
However, the group of MPs concludes that the Treasury was right to hear Cameron out, and says officials and ministers “behaved with complete and absolute integrity in their handling” of their contact with him.
It says they took “the right decision in preventing Greensill from accessing” the COVID lending scheme, even while expressing skepticism about the Treasury’s claim that Cameron’s former job “had no meaningful effect on how Greensill’s application for access” to the program was assessed.
Launching the report, Conservative MP Mel Stride, who chairs the committee, said there were “important lessons for the Treasury” from the Greensill affair.
“The Treasury should have encouraged David Cameron into more formal lines of communication as soon as it had identified his personal financial incentives,” he said.
“However, the Treasury took the right decision to reject the objectives of his lobbying, and the Committee found that Treasury Ministers and officials behaved with complete and absolute integrity.”
The report also questions Cameron’s wider judgment on Greensill’s financial health, saying the ex-prime minister “should have taken a broader and more enquiring assessment of the business,” and arguing that there were “signals available” that could have resulted in a “more restrained approach” from the ex-PM.
On lessons for the U.K.’s finance sector, the committee says it does not believe the Greensill collapse makes the case for supply chain finance to come under the “regulatory perimeter for financial services.” Instead, the MPs urge the Treasury to “address the underlying cause of the problem by paying suppliers sooner.”
A Treasury spokesperson said: “This report is clear that the Treasury was right to consider Greensill’s proposals, right to ultimately reject their proposals, and concludes that the Treasury behaved with absolute integrity throughout the process.”
The committee’s probe is one of several currently ongoing into the Greensill affair, including a government-ordered inquiry led by senior official Nigel Boardman and a look at Britain’s wider lobbying and ethics set-up from MPs on the public administration committee.