A squirming David Cameron today denied he was motivated by greed today as admitted he should have used more ‘formal’ approaches lobbying for Greensill.
Grilled by MPs, the former PM insisted he had not broken any rules – but conceded that people who had held the highest office in the land should be held to a different ‘category’ of standards.
Mr Cameron also stressed that he had ‘no sense’ that the supply chain finance firm was about to collapse.
‘This is a painful day coming back to a place that I love and respect so much… in these circumstances,’ Mr Cameron said. ‘I abided by the rules that were in place… but rules alone are never enough.’
Pressed on whether he was aware during the pandemic that the firm was under unbearable financial pressure, he said: ‘There was certainly no sense of jeopardy.’
Mr Cameron wriggled as he was pressed on how much he had stood to gain if Greensill had floated on the stock market, saying it was ‘significant’ but ‘private’ – and dismissing ‘absurd’ claims it could have been $60million.
‘The motivation for contacting the government was that I thought we had a really good idea,’ he said.
Earlier this week the Treasury Committee released dozens of texts and emails Mr Cameron sent to ministers and senior officials appealing for their help in gaining access for Greensill to Covid support programmes.
They included toe-curling messages to senior civil servants saying he was looking forward to an ‘elbow bump’ with Rishi Sunak. He also signed some off ‘Love, Dc.’
Mr Cameron said this afternoon that he routinely signed off his texts ‘Love, Dc’ to ‘anyone I know even at all well’. ‘I don’t know why,’ he added.
There were also direct contacts with the Chancellor, Matt Hancock and Michael Gove, as well as senior officials at the Treasury and the Bank of England.
In the end the firm did not get access to the government schemes – with Mr Cameron suggesting that in hindsight official who rejected his approaches were right. ‘I think they came to a very justifiable position,’ he said.
Mr Cameron said he had not had any formal lobbying role with Greensill, but thought that because of the coronavirus crisis it was ‘appropriate’ to have made calls and sent texts to key players.
But he added that ‘in normal times’, ‘if ever there is an occasion – and I doubt there will be – when a business has a commercial proposition to put to government it will be a single letter or email’.
David Cameron today admitted he should have used more ‘formal’ approaches lobbying for Greensill as he was grilled by MPs
Mr Cameron pictured with Lex Greensill on a trip to Saudi Arabia in January last year
Mr Cameron sent a toe-curling message saying he was looking forward to an ‘elbow bump’ with Rishi Sunak (pictured)
David Cameron’s toe-curling barrage of messages lobbying ministers
David Cameron‘s toe-curling barrage of messages to ministers and officials as he lobbied on behalf of Greensill were revealed earlier this week.
The Treasury Committee published a full list of the former PM’s contacts after he disclosed them ahead of the evidence session today.
They show that he fired off an array of texts and emails, some signed ‘Love Dc‘ and suggesting meet-ups for ‘elbow bumps’.
The powerful cross-party committee is investigating the collapse of Greensill Capital and lobbying of the Treasury and Bank of England on its behalf.
Mr Cameron has denied breaking any lobbying rules, but admitted he should have made approaches in a more formal way.
The messages revealed include to Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove.
He also contacted vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi.
One text message to Mr Gove on April 3 last year acknowledged the minister is ‘manically busy’, adding: ‘But do you have a moment for a word? I am on this number and v free. All good wishes Dc.’
Mr Cameron told the Treasury Committee: ‘It was the greatest honour of my life to be prime minister of this country.
‘When my service as prime minister came to an end, I wanted to build a new career based on a mix of charitable and pro-bono work for causes that I care about, like dementia and international development, and business interests in areas of cutting-edge technology.
‘I believe that an ex-prime minister should be able to do that and I thought carefully about the choices I made, and took extensive advice.’
Mr Cameron said in his opening statement to the Commons Treasury Committee that he abided by the rules that were in place, but added: ‘Rules alone are never enough.
‘We learnt that in this place over so many issues, personal conduct and codes of behaviour, and how such conduct and behaviour both appears and can be perceived, these things matter too.
‘I completely accept that former prime ministers are in a different position to others because of the office that we held and the influence that continues to bring.
‘We need to think differently and act differently.’
In one bruising exchange, Tory chair of the committee Mel Stride asked what he ‘would expect to have gained’ had his involvement in the business ‘gone to plan’.
Mr Cameron said: ‘Well, I was paid an annual amount, a generous annual amount, far more than what I earned as prime minister and I had shares, not share options, but shares in the business which vested over the period of time of my contract.
‘And so it is important for the committee to know that I absolutely had a big economic investment in the future of Greensill, I wanted the business to succeed, I wanted it to grow.
‘I haven’t put a number on those things because while I think it is very important and the questions you are asking, what was my role, how did I carry it out, was it appropriate to lobby, did I overstep the mark – the broader questions of what ex-prime ministers should and shouldn’t do – the fact that I had this economic interest, and a serious economic interest, that is important.
‘But I don’t think the amount is particularly germane to answering those questions and as far as I am concerned it is a private matter.’
Mr Stride pressed the former premier insisting it would be ‘distinctly different’ if it was a ‘matter of some tens of thousands of pounds’ than if it was ‘multiple millions of pounds’.
‘You must accept that? Do you view the $60million figure as just totally absurd?’ he said,
Mr Cameron said: ‘It is a completely absurd figure. But I can tell you the motivation for contacting the Government was that I thought we had a really good idea for how to help extending credit to thousands of businesses.
David Cameron grilled over ‘love, DC’ lobbying texts to Treasury official
David Cameron today defended his infamous ‘love, DC’ lobbying text messages to Treasury officials as he said he ends all his messages to people he knows ‘even at all well’ that way.
The former prime minister was grilled on the messages as he appeared in front of the Treasury Select Committee this afternoon.
Mr Cameron sent dozens of messages to people in Whitehall last year as he lobbied on behalf of Greensill.
And in one of them to Treasury Permanent Secretary Tom Scholar he signed it off with ‘love, DC’.
Tory MP Harriett Baldwin asked Mr Cameron: ‘You signed off one of your texts to him “love, DC’ which was the only one you signed off “love, DC”.
‘Can you just help the committee understand in particular why you used that to him or did you have a closer or wider personal relationship outside the formal one that you described?’
Mr Cameron replied: ‘I think I have seen him perhaps once or twice since leaving office.
‘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. But my children tell me that you don’t need to sign off text messages at all and it is very old fashioned and odd to do so.
‘But anyway, that is what I do.’
‘I would quite like to explain why i thought it was such a great idea because I think you know, I have sat on the other side of the fence in government where you have a credit crunch, you have difficulties in the credit market and you are desperate to get banks lending, desperate to get credit to businesses…
‘And I well remember standing at the despatch box and being asked, well this scheme that you announced six months ago, how many companies are taking part, how many banks are taking part, and often having to give very disappointing answers.
‘So I was very keen for us to put forward our scheme because I thought it was absolutely in the public interest to try and get money into small businesses.’
The Government has said Greensill’s applications were dealt with properly and were ultimately rejected.
However there has been criticism of how a former prime minister was able to exploit his personal contacts with former colleagues and officials in the pursuit of commercial gain.
In one message to Mr Sunak, Mr Cameron complained the Treasury’s objections to Greensill’s application were ‘nuts’, adding: ‘Think there is a simple misunderstanding that I can explain.’
In an exchange with Mr Gove, the former prime minister messaged: ‘Am now speaking to Rishi first thing tomorrow. If I am still stuck, can I call you then?’
‘Of course! Any time,’ Mr Gove responded.
Meanwhile the City watchdog has said it is launching a formal investigation into the collapse of Greensill which filed for insolvency in March.
The Financial Conduct Authority said some of the allegations made about the firm were ‘potentially criminal in nature’.
Greensill had major financial ties to GFG – the owner the UK’s third largest steelmaker, Liberty Steel – and its failure has put thousands of jobs at risk as GFG seeks to refinance.
In a letter to the committee, Mr Cameron said he first became concerned that the company might be in serious financial difficulty in December last year.
‘Up until that point, I firmly believed that Greensill was in good financial health,’ he said.
Appearing before the Treasury Committee on Tuesday, the firm’s founder, Australian financier Lex Greensill, said he was ‘truly sorry’ and took full responsibility for what happened.
‘Please understand that I bear complete responsibility for the collapse of Greensill Capital.
‘I am desperately saddened that more than 1,000 very hard working people have lost their jobs at Greensill. Likewise I take full responsibility for any hardship being felt by our clients and their suppliers, and indeed investors in our programmes.’
But at the same time he said the decision of the company’s leading insurer, Tokio Marine, ultimately led to the collapse.
He said that Covid-19 and the actions of authorities in Germany had played a role in the insurance company’s decision.
‘It’s deeply regrettable that we were let down by our leading insurer whose actions assured Greensill’s collapse, and indeed some of our biggest customers.
‘To all of those affected by this. I am truly sorry.’
A dressed-down David Cameron left his London home today as he braces for a grilling from MPs over his lobbying for collapsed finance firm Greensill Capital
Mr Cameron fired off an array of texts and emails, some signed ‘Love Dc’ and suggesting meet-ups for ‘elbow bumps’
Lex Greensill, whose firm is at the heart of a lobbying row featuring former prime minister David Cameron, told MPs earlier this week he was sad that 1,000 had lost their jobs with the finance house.