Chancellor On Speed Dial: Cameron accused of breaking his own lobbying laws

April 11, 2021

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2 min read

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What's going on here?

In April 2020, former-PM David Cameron contacted Rishi Sunak using his personal number in an attempt to access emergency COVID-19 loans for Greensill Capital. This conduct led to accusations that Cameron illegally lobbied the Chancellor on behalf of the firm. Cameron has since been cleared of any wrongdoing.

What does this mean?

Lobbying is the process by which individuals, associations, or companies attempt to convince a minister to support a cause in the lobbyist’s interest. Any member of the public is permitted to lobby the government and The Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014 governs this process. The legislation states that anyone who is associated with a company specifically to use their personal connections and lobby the government will be classed a Consultant Lobbyist. These individuals must be registered on the Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists; the regulating body states this is to “enhance transparency of those seeking to lobby Ministers…on behalf of a third party”.

If someone working as a consultant lobbyist does not register themselves they may be liable for a fine of up to ÂŁ7500 or, in very serious cases, criminal charges. It is important to note that if an individual is a direct employee of the company they are lobbying for, they do not need to be registered.

Cameron’s recent conduct has come under fire as he messaged Rishi Sunak multiple times using his personal phone without being registered as a Consultant Lobbyist. Cameron has been an advisor for Greensill since 2018 and had a significant shareholding in the company. Greensill, struggling to recover post COVID-19, was initially denied access to COVID funding. Cameron then attempted to personally persuade the Chancellor. His attempts were unsuccessful, and the firm collapsed in March 2021.

What's the big picture effect?

Following a recent investigation by the Registrar, Cameron has been cleared of these allegations. They held that “any contact [Cameron] had …was made as an employee of Greensill”. Although Cameron was advising Greensill, he was acting within his role as an employee of the company. Shadow Chancellor Annelise Dodds shifted blame towards Sunak stating, “these revelations raise extremely serious questions about the Chancellor’s priorities in the middle of a pandemic”.

When ex-politicians join private companies there is always a fear that they may misuse their connections to over influence ministers to make decisions in favour of the corporate body they represent. Vince Cable has called for a tightening of the rules to ensure “people cannot lobby for commercial interests in areas where they have had ministerial responsibility once they leave office”.

In 2014 Cameron (then Prime Minister) warned that lobbying could be the “next big scandal” for former ministers. There is a sense of irony in Cameron’s actions being scrutinised by the lobbying Registrar as the 2014 Lobbying Act was introduced by his former government. Although Cameron was ultimately found not guilty, this incident re-opens the debate surrounding the conduct of ministers once they have left office and the effectiveness of current lobbying laws. Tamsin Cave, who represents the lobbying watchdog Spindog, warned that “almost nobody gets caught breaking the lobbying rules”. This incident has certainly provided an opportunity for further scrutiny over the lobbying process.

Report written by Amber Allen

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