The appointment of Nigel Boardman to go an inquiry into how Lex Greensill lobbied for entry to public mortgage schemes in Downing Avenue got here at an acutely embarrassing second for Boris Johnson. The stench of sleaze had reached a few of his most senior ministers.
David Cameron, Johnson’s Etonian rival and political sparring companion, had been disclosed as a paid lobbyist for a agency whose collapse threatened 1000’s of jobs within the metal business.
On the peak of the primary wave of the coronavirus pandemic, the previous prime minister had lobbied junior ministers, civil servants and cupboard ministers, together with the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, after which well being secretary Matt Hancock, for entry to public lending schemes – secure within the information that, if profitable, Cameron stood to make greater than £40m.
Because the scandal unfolded, it emerged that the Cupboard Workplace below Francis Maude, who’s now advising Johnson on Whitehall, had allowed senior civil servants to concurrently moonlight for Greensill.
Asserting a completely unbiased inquiry in mid-April, Johnson mentioned Boardman would have “carte blanche” to suggest modifications to lobbying guidelines and will study official paperwork.
However suspicions that the report may very well be a stitch-up – and a helpful method of taking the warmth out of a rising cronyism and corruption scandal – had been raised instantly.
The phrases of reference of the inquiry remained narrowly targeted on “the event use of provide chain finance in authorities” and averted the precise drawback of lobbying.
Testimony would stay in personal and Boardman had no powers to summon witnesses.
After which there have been Boardman’s shut hyperlinks to a authorities division on the centre of the Greensill scandal. The Division for Enterprise, Vitality and Industrial Technique (BEIS), the place Boardman was a non-executive director, had requested for a number of “progress” updates on Greensill’s software to the coronavirus massive enterprise interruption mortgage scheme.
It additionally emerged that Boardman, the son of a Conservative minister, had been a member of the get together till the flip of the century and had as soon as stood for election to Islington council.
Senior civil servants started to concern the worst when Suzanne Heywood, the widow of Jeremy Heywood, was advised by Boardman that neither she nor a 3rd get together could be allowed to present proof to the inquiry on his behalf.
Proof unearthed by Boardman exhibits that Heywood did assist Greensill entry the very coronary heart of presidency. In a single telling e mail, the previous cupboard secretary emailed a colleague saying: “Lex is giving large quantities of his private time to HMG and wishes occasional use of No 10 to host senior enterprise individuals
“Let’s focus on tonight if u have reservations”.
In his report, Boardman’s conclusions relating to lobbying have prompted transparency campaigners to surprise if he had noticed the identical occasions.
“Engagement between authorities and a variety of events, which many seek advice from as ‘lobbying’, is important to the right functioning of democracy,” Boardman mentioned.
“It may possibly present decision-makers with insights and information, and permits governments to know the impression of public coverage on these it might have an effect on. It’s basic that legislators and the chief hearken to the voters.”
Questions stay unanswered as to which minister gave permission to Heywood to permit Greensill into Whitehall; why Sunak, Hancock and others had been so prepared to just accept calls from Cameron lobbying on Greensill’s behalf; and whether or not the foundations round lobbying and transparency have to be tightened.
Parliamentary inquiries into the Greensill affair will rumble on. William Wragg, the Conservative chair of the general public administration and constitutional affairs committee, is anticipated to name Boardman himself to present proof concerning the prime minister’s unbiased evaluation. Whereas his authorities has escaped criticism on this report, Greensill might but trigger issues for Johnson.