Rishi Sunak failed to rule out the existence of further communications relating to the Greensill Capital lobbying scandal when Anneliese Dodds challenged the Chancellor over transparency as he appeared in parliament for the first time in nearly two months.
Discussing the lobbying scandal in the House of Commons this afternoon, Dodds asked: “Has the Chancellor published his every communication with government business relating to Greensill, including with David Cameron? Yes or no?”
The Chancellor did not deny the existence of further correspondence in response. Sunak told the MPs present only that he had “responded to all requests” and argued that he had “gone above and beyond” in his efforts to be transparent.
“I’ll take that as a no,” the Shadow Chancellor said in response. “It appears the Chancellor is less committed to transparency than the Prime Minister himself. That’s not what I’d call ‘levelling with the British public’.”
Lex Greensill appears to have been hired as an adviser by the then Prime Minister David Cameron and employed Cameron when he left office. Cameron then lobbied on behalf of Greensill and arranged access to cabinet officials and ministers.
Cameron released a statement after a Freedom of Information request revealed that he had repeatedly texted Rishi Sunak and that the Chancellor had replied to say he had “pushed the team” to accommodate Cameron’s wishes.
Commenting after the session in parliament today, Dodds said: “For weeks the Chancellor has been dodging scrutiny about his texts, phone calls and secret meetings with David Cameron’s Greensill Capital.
“Today I gave him a chance to set the record straight with a simple question: has he published details of all those communications? He didn’t answer.
“The Chancellor said he’d level with the British public – his failure to do so just raises further questions about his role in the return of Conservative sleaze.”
The session in parliament came after a committee questioned a senior civil servant over the Greensill scandal earlier this week. Simon Case told members it was “not entirely clear” whether Lex Greensill ever worked in Downing Street.
But the Cabinet Secretary confirmed to the public administration and constitutional affairs committee on Monday afternoon that the businessman did have “access” to the building during Cameron’s time as Prime Minister.
Johnson has launched a review, headed by Nigel Boardman, that will look at the revolving door used by lobbyists, officials and politicians, in light of revelations that some have ‘double-jobbed’ as both Greensill employees and civil servants.
It has also been revealed that civil servant Bill Crothers joined Greensill while still working as the government’s chief procurement officer in an arrangement “agreed by the Cabinet Office under its internal conflicts-of-interest policy”.
Dodds also asked Sunak to confirm reports that he had flip-flopped over his support for a Covid lockdown last autumn and whether “this change of heart was driven by science and the needs of our economy” or internal Tory Party politics.
Sunak described a temporary national lockdown as “a blunt instrument” that would cause “needless damage” in October last year. When asked to rule out a circuit breaker six days later, he said: “I agree with the Prime Minister.”
Reports emerged at the weekend that the Chancellor “had moved closer to the stance of Mr Gove and Mr Hancock” by October in support of the country entering a second national lockdown in the face of rising coronavirus cases.
Sunak said today: “She’s asked me previously about circuit breakers and at the time there was a debate – appropriately – about whether a national intervention was right at the time when the epidemiology was incredibly varied… that is what I was referring to.”