David Cameron bombarded government ministers and officials with scores of texts, calls and emails over a four-month period, telling them that the failure to provide financial support to Greensill Capital was “nuts” and “bonkers”, it has been revealed.
A cache of messages released by the House of Commons Treasury Committee showed that the former prime minister and his office contacted ministers including chancellor Rishi Sunak – as well as senior officials at 10 Downing Street and the Bank of England – on 27 separate days between 5 March and 26 June 2020, with multiple contacts on some days.
And Mr Cameron’s messages also revealed efforts to lobby Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove. But there was little indication that Gove – a former close friend who fell out with the ex-PM over Brexit – gave much of a response to his contacts.
Meanwhile, it was revealed that Mr Cameron will face two grillings from panels of senior MPs on Thursday this week, facing the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee at 5pm, just after concluding a previously-announced interrogation by the Treasury committee at 2.30pm.
Signing his messages “Dc” or “De”, the ex-PM begins with requests for talks and offers of lunch, but the pleas for help become increasingly lengthy and detailed after it was made clear that Greensill’s application for inclusion in the multi-billion pound Covid Corporate Financing Facility had been rejected.
In all, at least 25 texts, 12 WhatsApp messages and eight emails were sent, and 11 calls are recorded in a timeline supplied by Mr Cameron to the committee, which is conducting an investigation into the affair with company founder Lex Greensill giving evidence this afternoon.
At one point, Cameron tells the Treasury’s top civil servant Tom Scholar he will “see you with Rishi’s for an elbow bump or foot tap”, as he assures him that Greensill are eager to “help” with the government’s response to the Covid crisis.
As the decision on CCFF got nearer, Cameron became more persistent, at one stage even telling Scholar: “One last point, then I promise I will stop annoying you”.
After the application was refused, he stepped up his contacts, telling the Treasury permanent secretary on 3 April he was “genuinely baffled” by the decision and asking for a phone discussion on what he said was a “bonkers” decision.
The same day, he texted Sunak himself to brand the Treasury decision “nuts” and asking him to “call any time on this number”.
He also fired off texts and emails to Treasury ministers Jesse Norman and John Glen, as well as 10 Downing Street special adviser Sheridan Westlake, who he told there was “a looming problem you can help solve”.
And he emailed the deputy governor of the Bank of England Sir Jon Cunliffe, telling him Greensill had been rejected despite having “dealt with every objection”, and adding: “I think I must be missing something here, Am obviously talking to HMT but would be grateful for any light you could shed on this.”
In a text that day to Gove, Cameron wrote: “I know you are manically busy – and doing a great job by the way (this is bloody hard and I think the team is coping extremely well). But do you have a moment for a word? I am on this number and v free. All good wishes De.”
Follow-up emails showed that Mr Cameron spoke with Mr Norman and Mr Westlake that day. And he texted Mr Sunak to say he looked forward to speaking the next morning.
After speaking to the Chancellor on 4 April, Mr Cameron was pushing for more meetings for himself and Lex Greensill, which took place later that week.
After amendments were made to Greensill’s proposals, Cameron texted Sunak again on 22 April, urging him to “give it another nudge over the finish line” and insisting it was “clearly in the national interest.”
Over the following weeks, he was repeatedly in touch with the chancellor by text message, assuring him on 23 April that “goodwill and common sense can fix this” and thanking him on 29 April for “huge progress” which he suggested meant that supply chain finance suppliers like Greensill could be included in the facility.
By 15 May, he was telling Mr Sunak “think we are there” and adding: “Happy to talk any time, but hope this can now get the green light!”
The messages also reveal that in June, Mr Cameron contacted both Mr Sunak and vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi pressing for the maximum loan Greensill could make under the Treasury’s CBILs scheme to be increased from £50m to £200m, describing the difference as “rather crucial”.
The contact came to an end on 26 June with a text to Mr Glen stating: “Thanks for your help with this. Sorry the answer is a No, but we appreciate the engagement. All good wishes. De.”