Rishi Sunak claimed David Cameron was not given any special attention from the Treasury, despite dozens of cosy chats and messages between him and senior officials and ministers.
The Chancellor claimed his department’s contact with the former PM did “not occupy a lot of our overall time”, and that “it was important to look at this regardless of who was raising it with us.”
MPs were left gobsmacked as Mr Sunak complained that having to declare details of lobbyists’ contact with officials might mean firms are less likely to engage with government.
And a fresh row emerged over the publication of texts from a top Treasury official to former PM David Cameron as he lobbied officials on behalf of a doomed lender.
Top treasury official Sir Tom Scholar refused to allow texts he sent to the David Cameron to be handed over to the Treasury Select Committee, which scrutinises the work of Mr Sunak’s department.
Mr Cameron contacted Sir Tom, pleading in vain for the Government to prop up financier Greensill Capital as the Covid-19 pandemic took hold.
Mr Cameron released his side of the chummy conversation – which he signed off “Love DC”.
But the Treasury said Sir Tom’s replies had been wiped, after his password was entered incorrectly on his official phone.
In one of Mr Cameron’s messages to Sir Tom on March 6, the former PM appeared to predict a Bank of England interest rate cut five days before it was announced.
Mr Cameron wrote: “Never quite understood how rate cuts help a pandemic.” Officials are legally barred from disclosing market sensitive information about changes to interest rates.
Mr Cameron claimed he had been talking about an already announced VAT rate cut.
And speaking to the Committee today, Sir Tom said he could not remember the subject of the discussion, but suggested it might have been to do with an emergency rate cut in the United States.
But asked if he would allow Mr Cameron to provide his copy of his messages to the Committee, he refused – saying any release of the information should be controlled by the Treasury through Freedom of Information disclosures.
Such disclosure could take weeks, and would allow the Treasury to redact the messages before they were released to the public.
“The messages that we were talking about were generated by me in on an official government device in the course of official government business,” Sir Tom said.
“And I think it’s appropriate that that be treated like any other part of official government business, and disclosure would have been governed through the Freedom of Information act.”
Sir Tom told the Committee his phone gets accidentally wiped about once a year, adding: “It tends to happen after the password has been changed, which you’re required to do at regular intervals.”
Both Treasury officials and Mr Sunak claimed Mr Cameron’s lobbying had been unsuccessful, and had not taken up much time.
Charles Roxburgh, second permanent secretary to the Treasury, defended the Treasury’s nine meetings with the firm’s representatives.
He told the Committee Mr Sunak “did not spend a lot of time on this, and I did not spend a lot of time on this, because I too was working on a lot more time-consuming and intense situations at the time,”
Mr Roxburgh met several times with Greensill at a time when the Government was scrambling to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic.
After a few meetings the Treasury declined Greensill’s attempts to be part of the Bank of England’s Covid Corporate Financing Facility (CCFF) scheme.
Mr Sunak claimed increasing transparency on Government lobbying would make firms “reluctant” to engage with ministers, which he said would be “disappointing and damaging to the policymaking process.”
“If they feel that every communication with government is available to the public, they might be reluctant to engage,” he said.