Now probe David Cameron’s £700m China deal: Commons standards chief Chris Bryant calls for sleaze inquiry to investigate suspicion ex-PM lobbied Philip Hammond to back investment fund set up by friend Lord Chadlington
- Chairman of Commons Standards Committee said inquiry into Cameron should also examine meeting between former Prime Minister and Philip Hammond
- As PM, Cameron hailed ‘golden era’ in trade relations between Britain and China
- Cameron’s office said his meeting with Mr Hammond had been only to seek Government support for the ‘concept of a bilateral fund’
- Spokesperson said he had not lobbied Ministers on behalf of the fund’s investors
An inquiry into lobbying by David Cameron should also examine a meeting that the former Prime Minister had with Philip Hammond amid suspicion that he may have used it to pressure the Government into supporting a lucrative £700 million UK -China investment fund, according to the Chairman of the Commons Standards Committee.
As PM, Mr Cameron – the subject of an independent inquiry by lawyer Nigel Boardman over his lobbying of Ministers and Whitehall officials on behalf of loans firm Greensill Capital – hailed a ‘golden era’ in trade relations between Britain and China.
After leaving Downing Street, he seemingly hoped to cash in with a new private equity fund proposed by his friend Lord Chadlington, who had donated thousands of pounds to his Tory leadership campaign.
Mr Cameron flew to Beijing in September 2017 to discuss the plan with China’s Vice Premier Ma Kai.
In October that year – 15 months after stepping down as PM – he met with Mr Hammond, the then Chancellor, and two months later the Treasury gave its crucial support for the fund for which Mr Cameron was to be Vice-Chairman.
By January 2018, Mr Cameron was back in Beijing, this time for talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping (pictured together) about the initiative which could potentially net him millions
By January 2018, Mr Cameron was back in Beijing, this time for talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping about the initiative which could potentially net him millions.
‘Excellent meeting & enjoyable dinner with President Xi Jinping in Beijing, to talk about the ‘Golden Era’ in UK-China relations & plans for the new UK-China Fund,’ he tweeted at the time.
Mr Cameron’s office last night said his meeting with Mr Hammond had been only to seek Government support for the ‘concept of a bilateral fund’ and he had not lobbied Ministers on behalf of the fund’s investors or partners.
He informed the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba), which advises former Ministers and civil servants on outside employment, about the meeting, his representatives added.
Under the ministerial code, former PMs and Ministers are banned from lobbying the Government for two years after leaving office but Chris Bryant, the Labour MP who chairs the Commons Committee on Standards, last night said the inquiry into Greensill should now be extended to cover the UK-China Fund.
Calling for the release of minutes or any related documents about the meeting and the Treasury’s decision to back the fund, he said: ‘I could not understand the rationale for supporting this fund at the time. It seemed mysterious. A lot of MPs were worried about the security implications of pursuing this ‘golden age’ of relations.’
Mr Cameron was a keen supporter of developing ties with Beijing. He welcomed President Xi to the UK for a state visit in 2015 and controversially opened up the UK’s nuclear industry and communications sector to Chinese firms.
The fund’s mastermind, Lord Chadlington, has been close to Mr Cameron since he became the Tory candidate for Witney, Oxfordshire, in 2001 (pictured together)
The fund’s mastermind, Lord Chadlington, has been close to Mr Cameron since he became the Tory candidate for Witney, Oxfordshire, in 2001.
In 2011, Mr Cameron spent almost £140,000 on buying a patch of land next to his Oxfordshire home from the peer.
Acoba approved Mr Cameron’s role as the fund’s Vice-Chairman in December 2017 – the same month the Treasury gave its support to the scheme – but told him he could not lobby the Government about the fund from that point.
By then, however, he had already met Mr Hammond, although he would still have been subject to the restrictions on lobbying imposed by the ministerial code.
Mr Hammond visited China in December 2017 where he also met Mr Kai, the Chinese official who had hosted Mr Cameron two months earlier.
The Chancellor’s officials used the trip to announce a package of measures, including Chinese and UK support for the fledgling investment fund.
‘Both sides welcomed the proposal for a bilateral UK-China investment fund with an initial round of $1 billion,’ a Treasury statement said.
The idea behind the UK-China Fund – which was to be based in Ireland – was that it would invest money from institutions in British and Chinese interests.
Such funds typically charge management fees of about 2 per cent of the assets under its control and performance fees of around 20 per cent on profits.
As Vice-Chairman, Mr Cameron is likely to have been in line to make a fortune if it was successful.
In November 2018, as Mr Cameron tried to gather support for the scheme, he met with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.
His wife, Samantha, who founded the fashion brand Cefinn, accompanied him on the trip to China where she attended a banquet to welcome her to China with fashion entrepreneur Wendy Yu.
Mr Cameron’s (pictured in 2019) office last night said his meeting with Mr Hammond had been only to seek Government support for the ‘concept of a bilateral fund’ and he had not lobbied Ministers on behalf of the fund’s investors or partners.
But as relations between Britain and Beijing have soured in recent years, the UK-China Fund has reportedly struggled to find investors.
The boom in bilateral trade envisaged by Mr Cameron has suffered because of concerns over China’s human rights records and the Government’s decision to remove Huawei from the 5G mobile network.
Despite the setbacks, it is understood plans are still being drawn up for the launch of Mr Cameron’s fund.
A spokesman for the former PM said: ‘David Cameron sought advice from Acoba about the establishment of a UK-China Fund in late 2017. He made clear he had held discussions with Ministers in both the Chinese and UK Governments.
‘He was also clear that if and when necessary, he would facilitate dialogue with the UK (and Chinese) Governments, but that he would not lobby Ministers, departments or officials on behalf of Fund investors or partners… He has never lobbied Ministers on behalf of the fund’s investors or partners.’
The Treasury said: ‘The investment fund was a private, commercial venture. Like other private initiatives… it did not involve Government participation or funding.’
Greensill-backed finance firm Taulia got lucrative contract with Transport for London while Boris Johnson was Mayor and Lex was a No 10 adviser
By Emma Dunkley
A finance company backed by Lex Greensill negotiated a lucrative contract with Transport for London while Boris Johnson was Mayor and the businessman was working as an advisor in No 10.
The fresh revelation about Government contracts linked to Mr Greensill and his collapsed loans firm last night prompted renewed calls for a fuller investigation into the Australian financier’s access to Whitehall and how he was able to benefit from his ties to David Cameron and other senior figures.
The Mail on Sunday can reveal that the process for awarding the contract – potentially worth millions of pounds – began in December 2015 when Mr Cameron was Prime Minister and Mr Johnson was Mayor of London, a position that governs TfL.
Mr Greensill later appointed Mr Cameron as a paid adviser, awarding him share options reportedly worth more than £40 million.
A finance company backed by Lex Greensill (pictured) negotiated a lucrative contract with Transport for London while Boris Johnson was Mayor and the businessman was working as an advisor in No 10
Government documents show that TfL handed a supplier payment contract to the US firm Taulia, which was financed solely by Greensill Capital at the time.
It meant Greensill would get a fee for paying suppliers early.
However, the contract was never used and terminated in 2019 after only one supplier signed up. It is understood a £150,000 fee was still paid to Taulia.
Last night, Dame Margaret Hodge, former chairwoman of the Public Accounts Committee, said: ‘Greensill’s relationship with the public sector is murky and open to lots of questions.
‘This is why the relationship between the company and politicians, civil servants, and the public sector should be subject to a thorough, total and complete investigation.’
A spokesman for TfL said: ‘In December 2015, when the previous Mayor was in office, TfL ran a competitive tender for a supplier to provide an early payments solution, which would allow its global supply chain to be paid earlier, with an affordable rate of finance. No Government Ministers or officials were involved in the procurement, the selection of supplier or the award of the contract.
‘The previous Mayor did not have any role in this procurement.’
Mr Johnson last week announced an inquiry into the Government’s use of supply chain finance connected to Greensill. The National Audit Office is also probing Greensill Capital’s involvement in the Government’s pandemic loan scheme, including how it was accredited to take part.
Greensill Capital and Taulia declined to comment. The Cabinet Office said that the contract was ‘done entirely by TfL’.
Tories accuse Sir Keir Starmer ally David Evans of getting £200,000 in taxpayer contracts from the council where his ex-lover was deputy leader
By Glen Owen, Political Editor
Labour rejected Tory claims of cronyism last night after a company owned by Sir Keir Starmer’s most powerful official won contracts together worth six figures from a council where his former lover holds a top position.
The Campaign Consultancy, owned by David Evans – Labour’s general secretary and one of Sir Keir’s closest allies – won a series of taxpayer contracts from Croydon Council that had been advertised as being worth nearly £200,000.
The contracts, for ‘local engagement’ and ‘policy development’, were awarded between 2014 and 2017 after Alison Butler, his ex-lover and mother of his child, became deputy leader of the council.
The Campaign Consultancy, owned by David Evans (pictured) – Labour’s general secretary and one of Sir Keir’s closest allies – won a series of taxpayer contracts from Croydon Council that had been advertised as being worth nearly £200,000
When Mr Evans took up the Labour job in May 2020 he relinquished his 90 per cent shareholding in the company, at the same time that his wife, Aline, took up a 75 per cent holding.
A Labour Party spokesman said: ‘These contracts were secured with full propriety after a transparent and robust procurement process, which included competitive tendering.’
The row comes as Sir Keir tries to exploit the David Cameron lobbying scandal as an example of ‘Tory sleaze’ – although it has so far failed to dent Boris Johnson’s double-digit opinion poll lead.
Mr Evans, 60, who fathered a daughter with Ms Butler during a relationship in the 1990s, was credited with helping to run the campaign that won the council for Labour in May 2014. Ms Butler became deputy leader and five months later The Campaign Consultancy won a £130,000 contract from the council, followed by three further deals for a ‘borough-wide engagement exercise to develop asset-based policies for the area that would reduce disadvantage and lack of opportunity’.
Mr Evans, who was an activist during the 1984 miners’ strike, founded the company in 2001. Sir Keir’s chief of staff, Morgan McSweeney, also worked there for two years.
Croydon Council’s growing financial problems have forced it to announce hundreds of job losses and take out a £120 million Government loan to avoid bankruptcy.
Last night, Tory MP Richard Holden said: ‘This reeks of a crony contract with yet another now literally bankrupt Labour council.
‘If Sir Keir Starmer wants to look into cronyism, maybe he doesn’t need to look far – he could start by speaking with his own top official and right-hand man at Labour headquarters.’
A Labour source said: ‘This is a pathetic attempt by the Conservatives to distract from the sleaze they have ushered into the heart of Government.
‘Health Secretary Matt Hancock, Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson should all account for the crony contracts and dodgy deals they’ve dished out to their mates and the billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money wasted as a result.’
It is understood that Mr Evans has argued that several different councils have awarded contracts to his company, including Tory-led ones, that Ms Butler had no involvement in the procurement process and the contracts were worth less than the £200,000 advertised.
Revealed: David Cameron’s lobbying emails to the head of NHSX on behalf of Greensill Capital said the company was ‘the UK’s leading fintech firm’
By Glen Owen
The emails sent by David Cameron in which he lobbied on behalf of Greensill Capital were revealed last night for the first time.
David Cameron’s wife Samantha accompanied him on the trip to China where she attended a banquet to welcome her to China with fashion entrepreneur Wendy Yu (Samantha and Wendy pictured together)
In a message in April 2020 to Matthew Gould, head of NHSX, the health service’s digital arm, Mr Cameron described Greensill as ‘the UK’s leading fintech firm’. The lender fell into administration in March.
Mr Cameron lobbied Mr Gould, who previously worked for him in government, about ‘one of the businesses I now work with’ – Greensill Capital, whose Earnd app was being piloted in several NHS trusts, the Sunday Times reported.
He also offered to introduce Mr Gould to Bill Crothers, previously one of Britain’s most senior civil servants who, it emerged last week, took a job with Greensill while working in Whitehall.
The message raised further questions for Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, as Mr Cameron wrote to Mr Gould to say that the Health Secretary was ‘extremely positive about this innovative offer’.
Last week it emerged Mr Hancock met Mr Cameron and Mr Greensill for a ‘private drink’ in 2019 to discuss a new payment scheme for the NHS.
The 2020 email to Mr Gould read: ‘Greensill have recently launched a digital solution (recently rebranded from Greensill Pay to Earnd) which helps with one of the SOS’s [Secretary of State’s] and your key priorities: helping all NHS employees’ welfare, morale, and wellbeing.’
The former Prime Minister asked NHSX to grant it access to the data of NHS employees.Within months, Earnd announced a partnership to deliver rapid payment to up to half a million NHS staff, having secured deals to get access to the sought-after data.
A spokesman for Mr Cameron told the Sunday Times: ‘These discussions were about the mechanics to ensure Earnd was delivered for NHS workers in an efficient way.’
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