The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, texted David Cameron to say he had “pushed the team” to see whether Greensill Capital could gain special access to emergency Covid loans, according to messages released by the Treasury on Thursday.
The offer followed what Treasury sources say were “multiple” texts by the former prime minister to Sunak’s personal phone last year, seeking intervention to assist the struggling finance firm, for which Cameron was an adviser and shareholder. The Treasury also said in a statement that Cameron “informally” phoned two other ministers from the department.
Two texts from Sunak to Cameron were released following a freedom of information request. The first, from 3 April, acknowledged a message from Cameron and promised a response that evening or the next morning.
In the second, from 23 April, Sunak explained that he hoped to find a way for Greensill to qualify for the largest possible tranche of government-backed loans under the Covid corporate financing facility (CCFF).
“Hi David, apologies for the delay. I think the proposals in the end did require a change to the Market Notice but I have pushed the team to explore an alternative with the Bank that might work,” Sunak wrote. “No guarantees, but the Bank are currently looking at it and Charles should be in touch. Best, Rishi.”
“Charles” is understood to refer to Charles Roxburgh, the second most senior civil servant in the Treasury.
Earlier documents released under freedom of information rules showed that the day after Sunak’s second text, Roxburgh spoke to Greensill Capital to expand on Sunak’s offer. Several other calls followed but in June the company was told it did not qualify. Greensill Capital collapsed in March this year.
Cameron’s role in lobbying ministers directly has prompted significant criticism amid growing evidence of the influence enjoyed during Cameron’s tenure inside No 10 by Lex Greensill, the Australian financier whose company became a leading provider of so-called supply chain finance.
Greensill became so embedded within Downing Street that by 2012 he had an official No 10 business card describing him as a “senior adviser”. Cameron has refused to comment on events.
The Treasury statement on Thursday said that “in the interests of transparency” it could confirm that Cameron also “reached out informally by telephone” to John Glen and to Jesse Norman, two more junior ministers in the department.
But it declined to publish Cameron’s texts, saying: “These communications were made by David Cameron in his capacity as an employee of Greensill, and with an expectation of confidence.”
In a statement released by the Treasury, Sunak said: “It is right that as an institution the Treasury engages with stakeholders and considers policy suggestions that are put to us, especially in an unprecedented crisis. In this instance, it became clear through officials’ discussions with Greensill that their proposal was not workable and would not deliver sufficiently for UK SMEs. And I stand by my decision to reject their request.”
A Treasury source said the department was not obliged under freedom of information laws to release the texts, but had done so “in order to reassure beyond doubt that there was no wrongdoing and that he acted with integrity and propriety”.