Tory MPs have voted down pleas for a parliamentary inquiry into the lobbying scandal threatening to engulf the Government.
Cabinet Office Minister Chloe Smith claimed Labour’s bid for a full committee-led inquiry was “unnecessary and unconstructive” as the vote failed 262-357.
She said the Government was “already” looking at the effectiveness of existing rules on lobbying, and working to “improve and extend” the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments regime.
But in a major blow to Boris Johnson, Parliament’s Treasury Committee tonight announced it WILL launch an inquiry anyway.
The Tory-led, cross-party inquiry will examine “the appropriateness of the Treasury’s response to lobbying” over Greensill.
Committee chairman Mel Stride said: “The Treasury Committee had previously decided to carefully consider these issues as part of its regular and upcoming evidence sessions with HM Treasury and its associated bodies, including the Financial Conduct Authority and Bank of England.
“In addition to this, we have now decided to take a closer look by launching an inquiry to investigate the issues that fall within our remit. We will publish further details when we launch the inquiry officially next week.”
Boris Johnson has ordered a review to look at behind-the-scenes contact between government and David Cameron on behalf of Greensill Capital, who employed him as a paid advisor.
Since the bank led by financier Lex Greensill collapsed, putting thousands of steel jobs at risk, it’s emerged Mr Cameron texted and e-mailed a string of contacts in government trying to access Covid loans for the firm.
Mr Cameron insisted he broke no rules in a statement on Sunday night – which Labour said he “cynically and shabbily” released while the media was distracted by Prince Philip’s death.
Keir Starmer blasted the PM for “blocking a proper inquiry”, led by a committee of MPs, that could recommend lobbying rules change more widely.
Labour’s leader declared: “The Greensill scandal is just the tip of the iceberg – dodgy contracts, privileged access, jobs for their mates. This is the return of Tory sleaze.”
Cabinet Office minister Julia Lopez said it was “right” for Parliament to probe conflicts of interest and “if there is an issue, let us uncover it”.
But she insisted the “existing framework” has “largely been very effective” at policing lobbying issues – and Greensill’s requests were turned down.
She added: “It was through transparency returns and declaration processes that meetings between Greensill and officials were highlighted.
“In other words, the system in that instance worked as it should.”
Ms Lopez complained the vote would “no doubt be manipulated into a social media campaign that implies [Tory] MPs are pro-cronyism and anti-transparency”.
She said there is “no point” in creating “yet another body” to scrutinise lobbying when government and parliamentary bodies already exist.
“I do not think we are in different places on this,” she added, to which an MP shouted: “We are!”
Separately, Parliament’s Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee is also examining lobbying through the work of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments.
It came after a fractious debate in Parliament about wider lobbying and influence of the government.
William Wragg, Tory chair of Parliament’s Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, said it was a “tasteless, slapdash and unbecoming episode for any former Prime Minister”.
Labour MP Claudia Webbe claimed there is “systemic corruption at heart of government”.
SNP’s Brendan O’Hara said David Cameron “is up to his neck in the same cronyism, corruption and sleaze that he promised to call out, expose and eradicate while in opposition. The hypocrisy is breathtaking.”
Shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves said the government’s review is “wholly inadequate – and deliberately so”.
Urging a full committee inquiry by Parliament, she told MPs: “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.”
And she criticised the role of inquiry leader Nigel Boardman, who she branded a “very good friend” of the government.
Defending Mr Boardman, Downing Street insisted people should not “prejudge” the “independent and through inquiry”.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman hailed Mr Boardman’s “expertise in his career, and the fact he’s a respected legal expert”.