LONDON (AP) — Former British Prime Minister David Cameron said Thursday he never suspected a financial services company he was lobbying for would go bankrupt, threatening thousands of jobs at a steel company that she helped finance.
Cameron was called in to answer questions from lawmakers about his efforts to secure public funds for Greensill Capital. His involvement in the business prompted inquiries into political lobbying in Britain.
The former leader of the Conservative Party is a key link in a chain of contacts between government ministers, civil servants and Greensill that collapsed in March. The bankruptcy forced the owner of Liberty Steel, which employs around 5,000 people, to seek a bailout from the UK government. Greensill was one of the company’s major backers.
Cameron told Parliament’s Treasury Committee that he had “no idea” the company was in danger.
“There was certainly no sense of danger” at board meetings, he said.
Cameron became a part-time adviser to the firm two years after leaving office in 2016. Greensill Capital was founded by Australian banker Lex Greensill, a former adviser to the Cameron government.
During the coronavirus outbreak, Cameron texted UK Treasury chief Rishi Sunak and emailed the Bank of England in a bid to secure government-backed loans for Greensill as part of a program to help businesses affected by the pandemic. He also lobbied Health Secretary Matt Hancock on behalf of a Greensill product that would have allowed healthcare workers to receive installments on their salaries.
Cameron sent dozens of text messages and emails to politicians and officials, some signed “love DC.” He said that didn’t necessarily indicate a close relationship.
“I tend to sign text messages with ‘love DC,'” he said. “My kids tell me you don’t have to sign text messages at all and it’s very old-fashioned and weird to do that.”
“One of the lessons I take away is that prime ministers should never use anything but letters or emails,” he added.
Cameron said his lobbying was motivated by a desire to help support British workers and businesses “in the economic turmoil caused by COVID” and not the prospect of making millions from his Greensill shares.
“I received an annual amount, a generous annual amount, much more than I earned as prime minister, and I had shares,” said Cameron, who earned around 200,000 pounds ($280,000). a year when he was a British leader.
“I absolutely had a big economic investment in the future of Greensill, I wanted the business to succeed,” he said. But he insisted the amount he was set to win was “a private matter”.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government has launched its own lawyer-led lobbying inquiry, but opponents doubt it will get to the truth.
Opposition parties are calling for tougher rules on contact between business representatives and government officials, saying Britain’s lax lobbying regulations leave the door open to corruption.
The UK Financial Conduct Authority is officially investigating Greensill’s collapse after receiving allegations it said were “potentially criminal in nature”.
Cameron said reports that Greensill directors had found potentially fraudulent invoices were “very disturbing if true”.
Cameron said his appearance before the committee, via video link, was “a painful day”.
“I respected the rules that were in place,” he said. “But rules alone are never enough.
“I totally accept that former Prime Ministers are in a different position than others because of the position we held and the influence that continues to bring. We need to think differently and act differently.