A motion tabled by Labour to establish a parliamentary inquiry into the Greensill lobbying scandal has been rejected by a majority of 95 votes in parliament today, with 262 MPs voting in favour and 357 against.
Reacting after the vote this afternoon, Rachel Reeves declared that “Boris Johnson’s MPs have voted to cover up cronyism”, adding: “It’s the return of Tory sleaze: one rule for them, another for everybody else. Labour will keep standing up for the British people so we can end this culture of Conservative cronyism.”
Following weeks of a row over corruption, with David Cameron and financial firm Greensill Capital at its centre, Labour had used its opposition day debate today to force a vote on setting up a parliamentary committee to investigate the scandal.
On Monday, Johnson announced an inquiry into Greensill Capital’s involvement in government, which has also been instructed to look into Cameron’s lobbying, but Reeves today criticised the review as “wholly inadequate – and deliberately so”.
Opening the debate for Labour this afternoon, the Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster argued that lawyer Nigel Boardman, appointed to head the investigation, is a “very good friend of the Conservative government”.
“They don’t want it to explore what needs to change in lobbying or who currently gets access to power or the wider issue of how to lift standards which have fallen so far in the last ten years under Conservative governments,” she said.
“Mr Speaker, they don’t want public hearings, they don’t want the ‘disinfectant of sunlight’ as David Cameron once urged, they just want this to go away, which is why they have chosen Nigel Boardman to chair it.”
Boardman has served as a non-executive director at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy since 2018. The department supervises the British Business Bank, which lent money to Greensill Capital.
Reeves argued that “when it comes to lobbying, it takes two to tango”, and the shadow Cabinet Office minister told parliament that “for every former minister lobbying, there is someone in power being lobbied”.
“This is why this scandal isn’t just about the conduct of David Cameron during his time as Prime Minister and in the years since then. This is about who he lobbied in the current government and how they responded,” she explained.
The vote today followed a Freedom of Information request last week that revealed David Cameron had repeatedly texted Rishi Sunak and that the Chancellor had replied to say he had “pushed the team” to accommodate Cameron’s wishes.
Cameron published a statement on Sunday evening responding to the Greensill lobbying scandal stories after it was revealed that, as well as texting Sunak, he brought Lex Greensill to a “private drink” with Matt Hancock.
Reports also emerged on Tuesday that Bill Crothers, a top civil servant, joined Greensill as an adviser while still working as the government’s chief procurement officer in an arrangement “agreed by the Cabinet Office“.
Under Labour’s proposal, Sunak, Hancock and Cameron would come to parliament to give evidence, and the government would make public all communications relating to Greensill between ministers, special advisers and senior staff.
Opposition day motions are not usually binding on the government and the Tories have ignored successive votes but, because this is calling for parliament rather than ministers to establish an inquiry, it would have led to the creation of a committee.
Reeves said: “This motion today does what the government should have done but chose not to. It gives the power to this House, not the government, with a 16-strong select committee with clout to investigate this whole sorry scandal.”
MPs also raised broader concerns about government procurement. Labour’s Angela Eagle described the Greensill scandal as “only the tip of a very large iceberg”, highlighting the £2bn of Covid contracts awarded without a competitive process.
“The whole system is rigged in the interest of the super-rich and the super-rich spend a lot of money making sure that it stays that way,” Labour’s Richard Burgon told MPs. “And in the Tory Party they have the perfect vehicle for this.”
“One in three of the UK billionaires have bankrolled the Conservative Party since 2005 – one in three of the UK’s billionaires. And boy do they get their money’s worth. Tens of billions of pounds in corporate giveaways for the rich.”
Referring to the Prime Minister’s recent attribution of the success of the Covid vaccine roll-out to “greed” and “capitalism”, junior shadow minister Sam Tarry accused the Tories of being “the Gordon Gekkos of the green benches”.
Closing the debate for the opposition, Anneliese Dodds highlighted the jobs at risk due to Greensill’s involvement in government and its subsequent collapse and appealed to Conservative backbenchers to support her party in its demand.
“They know their constituents are appalled by new evidence of cronyism and the sleaze that seems to be emerging every day under the Conservatives,” the Shadow Chancellor declared in parliament this afternoon.
Dodds concluded her remarks by calling on Conservative MPs to “show some backbone”, adding: “They should vote today for full, transparent, parliament-led inquiry to get to the bottom of this scandal once and for all.”
Ahead of the vote this afternoon, Keir Starmer urged Johnson and Tory backbenchers during Prime Minister’s Questions to support the motion from Labour, arguing that the Greensill affair marks “the return of Tory sleaze”.
The Labour leader stressed the need for a “full, transparent, independent inquiry” into the lobbying scandal and for an “overhaul of the broken system”, telling MPs that “the Prime Minister will not act against sleaze, but this House can”.