David Cameron has insisted he broke no rules over his lobbying for the failed finance firm Greensill, but admitted he should have communicated with the government “through only the most formal of channels”.
The former prime minister, making his first public statement since the controversy broke last month, said he understood public concern about his contact, including by text message and email, with cabinet ministers including Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, and Matt Hancock, the health secretary.
However, while acknowledging that he should have acted differently “so there can be no room for misinterpretation”, he claimed that “many of the allegations that have been made about these issues are not correct”.
Mr Cameron’s lengthy statement was issued as he came under increasing pressure to explain his attempts to exert influence within government on behalf of the company’s application for the Bank of England’s Covid Corporate Financing Facility.
The application was eventually rejected despite Mr Cameron repeatedly sending texts to the chancellor pleading for the scheme to be amended so Greensill could qualify.
Labour has called for a National Audit Office (NAO) inquiry into why Greensill was given access to a Treasury coronavirus support scheme offering government-backed loans of up to £50m.
Mr Cameron said that he had only met the company’s founder twice when he was prime minister and claimed that “the false impression has been created that Lex Greensill was a close member of my team”.
He added: “Lex Greensill was brought in to work with the government by the former cabinet secretary, Jeremy Heywood, in 2011. He was not a political appointee, but part of the civil service drive to improve government efficiency.
“In bringing him in, Jeremy was acting in good faith to solve a real problem - how to ensure companies in supply chains, particularly SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises], could access low-cost credit.”
The idea of working for Greensill was not discussed until after he left office, he said. Mr Cameron, who was employed for 25 days per year as a senior adviser to Greensill Capital from August 2018, also rejected reports that he hoped to gain £60m from stock options in the company.
He claimed that he contacted the government on the company’s behalf because he “sincerely believed” that Greensill could help UK businesses access credit “at a time of national crisis”.
Mr Cameron added: “In my representations to government, I was breaking no codes of conduct and no government rules.
“However, I have reflected on this at length. There are important lessons to be learnt. As a former prime minister, I accept that communications with government need to be done through only the most formal of channels, so there can be no room for misinterpretation.”
Greensill Capital fell into administration in March, potentially leaving taxpayers on the hook for millions in underwritten loans and putting the future of Liberty Steel, Britain’s third-largest steelmaker, at risk.
Mr Cameron also admitted that in January 2020 he and Mr Greensill met Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman - who has been accused of approving the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018.
During the business trip he “took the opportunity to raise concerns about human rights, as I always did when meeting the Saudi leadership when I was prime minister,” he said.
Labour said Mr Cameron’s statement leaves “many serious questions” unanswered and repeated demands for him to appear before parliament.
Shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Rachel Reeves, said: “The events unfolding over the last few weeks stretch across government and affect thousands of people.
“Transparency and accountability are crucial and that requires the utmost openness from government to establish the full facts behind this scandal.”
Additional reporting by Press Association