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Greensill scandal: David Cameron earned 'far more' at bust firm than as PM

·4-min read
Britain's former prime minister David Cameron giving his opening statement to the Treasury Committee. Photo: Parliament Live TV
Former prime minister David Cameron gives his opening statement to the Treasury Committee. (Parliament Live TV)

Former prime minister David Cameron has said he lobbied the government on behalf of collapsed Greensill Capital because he thought it could help UK companies during the pandemic, not because of his own significant financial interest.

Cameron was grilled by MPs on Thursday after being embroiled in a row over Greensill's access to government. 

Greensill collapsed earlier this year. Since then it has emerged that Cameron repeatedly lobbied senior government and Bank of England officials last year to try and help Greensill gain access to COVID support schemes. Parliament's lobbying watchdog investigated Cameron's action but ultimately cleared him.

Cameron joined Greensill in 2018. He told MPs lobbying was never meant to be part of his role but, after the government introduced schemes to help credit flow during the COVID crisis, Cameron felt Greensill could help and was compelled to contact officials.

“This was particularly the case as what was being suggested was very similar to action taken during the financial crisis of 2008 when businesses like Greensill were involved,” he said.

Watch: Every chance David Cameron will be hauled back before MPs to answer more questions

Read more: UK financial watchdog opens probe into 'potentially criminal' Greensill collapse

Admitting that he was paid by and had shares in Greensill, Cameron denied he was motivated by personal gain. He said he wanted to help extend credit to UK companies under government schemes, "which would have been good for businesses but also good for us."

Cameron potentially stood to make millions if Greensill went public. According to reports by the Sunday Times, he could have made as much as £60m.

The figure was disputed by Cameron but he did not provide an accurate one. He said he was paid "a generous amount" at Greensill, "far more than I was as prime minister".

The UK prime minister earns just over £157,000 a year. The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that Cameron earned millions from Greensill between his salary, bonuses, and cashed out share options. Cameron declined to comment on that report.

Screen grab from parliamentlive.tv showing Lex Greensill giving evidence to the Commons Treasury Committee. Picture date: Tuesday May 11, 2021. Lex Greensill has apologised and said he takes
Lex Greensill giving evidence to the Commons Treasury Committee on Tuesday May 11, 2021. Photo: House of Commons/PA Images via Getty Images

Greensill was a finance company once worth around $30bn (£26bn) that went bust in March. It lent money to companies to pay their suppliers early — a form of short-term credit known as supply chain finance. 

Questions have been asked about Greensill's business practices and the level of risk it took in the run up to its collapse. The FCA said this week it was investigating "potentially criminal" incidents linked to the collapse. Founder Lex Greensill was forced to deny he was a fraudster when questioned by MPs earlier this week.

Cameron, who left Downing Street in 2016, said he didn't know Greensill was in financial difficulty when he contacted officials last year.

“My motivation for contacting ministers and others was to help UK firms at this moment of difficulty and make sure fintech firms, Greensill in particular, were listened to along with major clearing banks,” he said.

Cameron said government schemes were being introduced in “rapid time”, which is why he chose to contact the chancellor and ministers “directly.”

Earlier this week it was revealed that Cameron frequently texted, emailed, and called officials last year while helping Greensill Capital apply for emergency funding. Cameron lobbied chancellor Rishi Sunak, cabinet minister Michael Gove and Jon Cunliffe, a deputy governor at the Bank of England.

Read more: 'Can I ask a favour?': David Cameron's Greensill lobbying texts revealed

Cameron was being questioned as part of the Treasury Select Committee's inquiry into the collapse of Greensill. Cameron and Sunak have both been dragged into the probe. 

He said he believed lobbying was a healthy part of the democratic process "but I accept there is a strong argument that having a former prime minister engage on behalf of any commercial interest, no matter how laudable the motive and cause, can be open to misinterpretation."

Cameron has continued to deny breaking any code of conduct or rules surrounding lobbying.

Watch: Lex Greensill apologises to MPs for his company's collapse