David Cameron did not do anything wrong when lobbying for Greensill Capital and “meticulously observed the rules”, the environment secretary has told Sky News.
George Eustice also said current rules on lobbying are “pretty good”.
But Labour’s shadow communities secretary, Steve Reed, claimed “Tory sleaze is well and truly back”, adding that the Greensill revelations are “really quite shocking”.
Asked about the former prime minister’s conduct, Mr Eustice said: “Has he done anything wrong? Well, on the face of it, no. There’s a review that is going on, we mustn’t prejudge that.”
Mr Eustice added: “I don’t think he took advantage of any rules, no. He meticulously observed the rules there that he himself actually put in place after some concerns around lobbying a decade ago. He put in place these restrictions on what ministers can do for a period of two years.”
The environment secretary did concede, however, that Mr Cameron might have taken a different approach.
“He himself has said that with hindsight it probably would have been better if, rather than texting ministers, he had instead written letters to set out his views more formally,” Mr Eustice said.
“He himself has conceded that with hindsight, if he had his time again, he wouldn’t have texted Rishi Sunak and wouldn’t have texted others – he would instead have written through formal channels.”
Regarding rules on lobbying, Mr Eustice said: “Fundamentally, I think the systems we have in place with ministers declaring interests with the ministerial code and the focus on that and how ministers conduct themselves in office is actually a pretty good one.
“But that is not to say you couldn’t make tweaks or changes, and also there will be a time and a place for that after these reviews have concluded.”
In recent weeks it has emerged that Mr Cameron, who was employed by Greensill Capital’s owner Lex Greensill in 2018 after he left Downing Street, approached serving ministers about the involvement of the finance firm in government-backed financial support schemes during the coronavirus crisis.
This included text messages sent to Chancellor Rishi Sunak.
Steve Reed told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “From what I can see in all this is that the era of Tory sleaze is well and truly back, and what’s happened with the Greensill scandal is really quite shocking.”
Mr Reed added: “You’ve got a former prime minister employed by a wealthy organisation who is then using his personal relationships with existing ministers, including the Chancellor of the Exchequer, persuading them to do favours, favours that would not have been open to other businesses or organisations.”
Mr Eustice was also asked about Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s interest in a family company that has contracts with the NHS.
In March, Mr Hancock declared in the MPs’ register of interests that he owns more than 15% of shares in Topwood Limited, a firm which specialises in secure storage, shredding and scanning of documents.
Mr Eustice said: “The reason we know about this is because Matt Hancock did what all ministers do in this case, which is to declare that interest.
“And so he did the right thing, he declared that – he had no role whatsoever around that business, so yes there is nothing wrong with ministers having financial interests, providing they declare them in the appropriate way.”
Asked whether lobbying rules were “broken” if they allowed ministers to hold financial interests in companies making money from their government department’s contracts, the Cabinet minister replied: “I’m not sure I would agree with that.
“Ministers can move around a lot – famously we tend not to spend too long in one particular role.”
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