David Cameron's one-time press secretary defends his old boss

David Cameron stuck to the rules, says minister: Former PM’s one-time press secretary defends his old boss – and says ‘you can’t begrudge people moving on to another career’

  • George Eustice defended David Cameron over his Greensill Capital lobbying
  • Cameron’s former press secretary said his old boss didn’t break any rules
  • He also said that former politicians need to be allowed to start new careers

A cabinet minister defended embattled David Cameron yesterday as details emerged of how the former prime minister had lobbied the NHS for staff data on behalf of Greensill Capital.

Mr Cameron’s one-time press secretary George Eustice said his old boss had not broken any rules in his work for the controversial finance firm and said former politicians must be allowed to start new careers.

Mr Eustice, now the Environment Secretary, also insisted that the UK had ‘quite robust’ rules governing ministers’ behaviour but signalled that some ‘tweaks’ could be made in response to the swirling scandal over lobbying and business interests.

It came after The Sunday Times published emails showing that Mr Cameron had tried to get access to doctors’ and nurses’ details for Greensill’s early payment service.

A cabinet minister defended embattled David Cameron yesterday as details emerged of how the former prime minister had lobbied the NHS for staff data on behalf of Greensill Capital

He told the NHS digital boss Matthew Gould that Earnd would be ‘much slicker’ if it could use the Employee Staff Record but the app was a flop.

Mr Eustice told the BBC: ‘I think the key thing is that he has not broken any of the rules. It is acceptable, because it was within the rules. The point I would make is that ministers, when they leave office, including prime ministers, aren’t allowed to take any such paid roles for two years – these are rules David Cameron himself brought in. He left office some five years ago and you can’t begrudge people moving on to another career.’

Mr Cameron has faced weeks of damaging revelations about how he used his contacts and influence to try to get Greensill Capital – which collapsed last month – access to the Covid Corporate Financing Facility when the pandemic struck. Last week a photo emerged of Mr Cameron and Lex Greensill, the firm’s founder, sipping tea inside a tent during a ‘desert camping trip’ in Saudia Arabia in January last year.

Greensill was planning to open an office in the Saudi capital Riyadh and during the trip the former PM and Mr Greensill met Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who was accused of approving the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. Mr Cameron, who worked for the firm, said he raised human rights concerns with the crown prince during the trip.

Mr Cameron’s one-time press secretary George Eustice (pictured) said his old boss had not broken any rules in his work for the controversial finance firm and said former politicians must be allowed to start new careers

Mr Eustice pointed out that despite Mr Cameron texting Chancellor Rishi Sunak in an attempt to get Greensill access to Covid support loans, his bid was rejected by the Treasury. He said: ‘The real question here is what did the Chancellor do when he was contacted?

‘Well, he flagged the conversation with his officials, he asked them to look at it, the answer came back that “No, nothing can be done” and the company didn’t fit the criteria.’

On Sky News, Mr Eustice said Mr Cameron had admitted he should have written a formal letter instead of messaging the Chancellor’s mobile, but went on: ‘The real point is “has he done anything wrong?” Well, on the face of it, no. He meticulously observed the rules.’ Asked if changes to the rules were now needed, Mr Eustice said the current system was ‘fundamentally… a pretty good one’. He added: ‘But that is not to say you couldn’t make tweaks or changes, and also there will be a time and a place for that after these reviews have concluded.’

He suggested the review into the Government’s dealings with Greensill and Mr Cameron, to be carried out by City lawyer Nigel Boardman by June, might not make any policy recommendations although the terms of reference show it can.

Mr Eustice, now the Environment Secretary, also insisted that the UK had ‘quite robust’ rules governing ministers’ behaviour but signalled that some ‘tweaks’ could be made in response to the swirling scandal over lobbying and business interests

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves said: ‘Having failed to deflect the blame, the Government’s latest approach appears to be to shrug their shoulders and say, “Scandal? What scandal?”. We don’t need the “tweaks” Eustice said they might consider today, we need to tackle Tory sleaze with a full, independent, transparent inquiry – and we need stronger measures to put integrity and honour back into heart of government.’

A spokesman for Mr Cameron said of his NHS lobbying: ‘These discussions were about the mechanics to ensure Earnd was delivered for NHS workers in a smooth and efficient way.’

‘Give sleaze-buster more power’ 

By Martin Beckford for the Daily Mail 

A new Government sleaze-buster is to be appointed today and could be handed the power to launch investigations into ministers accused of cronyism.

Boris Johnson is due to announce the name of the next Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests, five months after the last one quit in protest at being overruled. 

The new watchdog will face demands to investigate several ministers over alleged overly close links to business and involvement in the Greensill lobbying scandal.

Boris Johnson (pictured) is due to announce the name of the next Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests, five months after the last one quit in protest at being overruled

Currently, the ministerial interests watchdog can only look into allegations when asked to do so by the Prime Minister.

But the public sector ethics chief has called on No10 to give the adviser the power to launch investigations ‘where, in their judgement, this is necessary in order to establish the facts surrounding allegations that the ministerial code had been breached’.

Lord Evans of Weardale, the former MI5 director-general who chairs the Committee on Standards in Public Life, told Mr Johnson in a letter that the adviser should be able to publish a summary of their findings into allegations, ‘stating whether or not… the Ministerial Code had been breached, and the adviser’s view on the severity of the breach’.

The PM should retain the power to decide on the punishment for any breach, he added. 

Lord Evans of Weardale (pictured), the former MI5 director-general who chairs the Committee on Standards in Public Life, told Mr Johnson in a letter that the adviser should be able to publish a summary of their findings into allegations

It could avoid a repeat of the debacle last November when the previous adviser, Sir Alex Allan, concluded that Priti Patel had bullied her staff – but the PM stood by the Home Secretary so Sir Alex quit instead. 

Meanwhile, senior Tory MP Sir Bernard Jenkin, chairman of the Commons liaison committee, warned in The Observer that Mr Johnson risks losing the trust of the ‘red wall’ of ex-Labour voters who helped him win the last election unless he tackles growing sleaze claims.

Pressure grows on Hancock 

Matt Hancock last night faced pressure from within government over his family’s interest in a company that was approved as an NHS supplier.

He became the victim of a hostile briefing operation as his detractors pointed to similarities with a Bank of England boss who was forced to resign.

Charlotte Hogg, who was set to become deputy governor, quit in 2017 after it emerged that she had failed to disclose that her brother worked at Barclays.

The Health Secretary is facing questions about how Topwood Limited, a firm owned by his sister and mother, was put on a list of approved suppliers to NHS Trusts in 2019. The ministerial code requires ministers to declare interests of close family members that ‘might be thought to give rise to a conflict’.

In the registers of ministers’ interests in the past two years, Mr Hancock is listed as having ‘no relevant interests’. He took a stake in the firm this year. In the separate MPs’ register of interests, he said he had acquired more than 15 per cent of the shares in Topwood. A Government spokesman denied he has broken the code.

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