The public don’t need to know which lobbyists ministers meet with because it can get “complicated”, a Tory Cabinet Minister has argued.
George Eustice, the Environment Secretary, today defended David Cameron over his cosy chats and texts with ministers including Chancellor Rishi Sunak on behalf of failed bank Greensill.
“He has not broken any of the rules. It is acceptable,” Mr Eustice said.
He also argued ministers shouldn’t have to declare who they meet with, because it doesn’t “matter”.
“Fundamentally what matters is how ministers react, not who they talk to,” he said.
He argued that in his role he meets with a range of people, including constituents, farmers and environmental activists.
He said: “What matters is not who I’ve spoken to, but whether I’m unduly influenced by the people I speak to. And I’m not.”
BBC Host Andrew Marr put to him that his argument amounted to “let us regulate ourselves, we are above and beyond suspicion.”
In response, Mr Eustice argued the rules on lobbying – which allowed David Cameron’s texts to Mr Sunak to go undeclared, and the “private drink” with Matt Hancock to go undeclared – were already “robust.”
“What we’ve got,” he said, “are some quite robust systems in place. And the principle one is the ministerial code, and that’s how ministers conduct themselves based on the people they’ve talked to.”
In November, the official formerly in charge of the ministerial code, Sir Alex Allen, resigned after Boris Johnson overruled his advice and refused to sack Home Secretary Priti Patel over “bullying” behaviour.
Defending former PM Mr Cameron, Mr Eustice argued former ministers cannot be “begrudged” taking up new posts following a two-year period after leaving government.
Mr Eustice, who was Mr Cameron’s press secretary when he was leader of the opposition, said: “I think the key thing is that he has not broken any of the rules.
“It is acceptable, because it was within the rules.
“The point I would make is that ministers, when they leave office, including prime ministers, aren’t allowed to take any such paid roles for two years – these are rules that David Cameron himself brought in.
“He left office some five years ago and you can’t begrudge people moving on to another career.”
He added: “He himself conceded that with hindsight, he should have written it in a more formal way, in a letter through the private office.
“But the real question here is what did the Chancellor do when he was contacted?
“Well, he flagged the conversation with his officials, he asked them to look at it, the answer came back that ‘No, nothing can be done’ and the company (Greensill) didn’t fit the criteria.
“The company was told, ‘we’re not going to help you’ and it went bust, so basically nothing changed.”