Politics latest news: Civil servants face hunt for those with second jobs in wake of Greensill scandal

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David Cameron and Lex Greensill during a trip to Saudi Arabia
David Cameron and Lex Greensill during a trip to Saudi Arabia
  • Civil servant allowed to join Greensill while working in Whitehall

  • Lord Frost to hold Brussels talks over NI trade tensions

  • European countries will not guarantee extradition to UK

  • Coronavirus latest news: I would lift restrictions quicker, says Cambridge risk expert

Boris Johnson has expanded the review into lobbying to hunt for civil servants with second jobs, after further revelations that one of Britain’s most senior civil servants worked as an adviser to the finance firm Greensill.

It emerged last night that Bill Crothers was head of Whitehall procurement, in control of a £15 billion annual purchasing budget, when he took on an external role as part-time adviser to the finance company’s board in September 2015.

In a letter to Lord Pickles, chairman of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba), Mr Crothers said the move was “not uncommon”.

It is understood to have personally alarmed the Prime Minister, who had already ordered lawyer Nigel Boardman to investigate David Cameron’s lobbying activities.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “The Boardman review into Greensill Capital and supply chain finance will be wide ranging and will also consider the issues raised so the public can judge whether they were appropriately handled at the time.”

Labour has a crunch opposition day vote on an MP-led inquiry into the former prime minister and Greensill this afternoon, after the first PMQs since recess, where the scandal is also likely to feature.

Jill Rutter, a former civil servant and senior research fellow of UK in a Changing Europe, told Radio 4’s Today programme there was a “weird loophole that Bill Crothers was able to exploit”, putting the Cabinet Office squarely in the spotlight.

She noted that former civil servants had little to offer the business world, except contacts, and that there was “awful lot of eyebrow raising going on last night”.

​​Follow the latest updates below.

09:49 AM

Have your say: Should there be a Parliament-led inquiry into Whitehall sleaze?

MPs are expected to vote this afternoon on whether to create a Parliament-led committee charged with carrying out a probe into cronyism, sleaze and lobbying in the wake of the Greensill scandal.

It seems highly likely that Conservative MPs will abstain or vote against – as they tend to do with all opposition day debates – with backbenchers pointing to the existing inquiry announced by Boris Johnson on Monday.

Labour has claimed the Boardman review has “all the hallmarks of a Conservative cover up”, noting that it would be held behind closed doors with no guarantee of action.

Their public inquiry instead would push those named in the Greensill row so far, including Rishi Sunak, Matt Hancock and former Prime Minister David Cameron, to come before Parliament.

Is this second inquiry needed – and should Tory MPs back it to prove their commitment to transparency? Have your say in the poll below.

09:39 AM

Choppers Politics: Boris Johnson could be seen as ‘truly historic figure’ in 100 years’ time

Boris Johnson could be seen as “a truly historic figure” in 100 years’ time according to the unofficial biographer of 10 Downing Street.

Sir Anthony Seldon, who has written biographies of Prime Ministers going back to Winston Churchill, told Chopper’s Politics that while “the jury is out,” history was beckoning the Prime Minister.

He added: “He could very easily be one of those figures who people still in 100 years talk about as a truly historic figure who made the weather. I mean, Boris Johnson is a weather maker.”

Sir Anthony, widely acknowledged to be a national authority on all matters to do with 10 Downing Street, warned that “anyone who writes off Boris Johnson is, I think, letting their prejudice take over”.

Listen to the interview with Sir Anthony, as well as hearing from Tobias Ellwood MP, chairman of the Defence select committe, and Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UK Hospitality, below.

Chopper's Politics podcast - Seldon, Ellwood, Nicholls
Chopper’s Politics podcast – Seldon, Ellwood, Nicholls

09:23 AM

Ban former ministers from all lobbying for five years, says industry chief

Gordon Brown said former prime ministers 'must never be lobbying for commercial purposes', with a ban of at least five years - PA
Gordon Brown said former prime ministers ‘must never be lobbying for commercial purposes’, with a ban of at least five years – PA

The head of a communications trade body, which represents lobbyists, has said he backs Gordon Brown’s call to ban former ministers from lobbying for at least five years.

Currently ministers are prevented from lobbying for two years after they leave government.

But Francis Ingham, the director general of the PRCA, told Sky News that the Lobbying Act should be “opened up” and expanded to include people who are directly employed by firms to lobby, rather than just external lobbyists as is the case currently.

It should also “stop ministers from becoming lobbyists”, he said, telling Sky News: “We agree with Gordon Brown that there should be a five-year ban.”

He added: “We actually think it should be broader than he said – so it applies not just to business. It should cover the whole of the lobbying industry, whether it’s charities or trade unions.”

09:15 AM

Official’s second job at Greensill ‘completely improper’, says industry chief

The head of a communications trade body, which represents lobbyists, has said it is “absolutely astonishing” that one of the UK’s most senior civil servants was working part-time for Greensill.

It emerged last night that Bill Crothers was head of Whitehall procurement, in control of a £15 billion annual purchasing budget, when he took on an external role as part-time adviser to the finance company’s board in September 2015.

Francis Ingham, director general of the PRCA, told Sky News it was “completely contrary to our code of conduct”.

“This is the whole point – the lobbying industry has higher standards than the Government,” he added. “It is the Government’s standards who are too low – it isn’t the industry’s.

He added: “The Cabinet Office has really serious questions to answer about how on earth they signed this off, who signed it off, who knew about it because it is absolutely astonishing.

He was “amazed that anyone in Government thought this was proper – it is clearly completely improper”.

09:09 AM

Government ‘restricting standards’ on lobbying, claims trade body chief

The Government is “restricting standards” on lobbying and must catch up with what the industry wants, according to the director general of the communications trade body PRCA.

Francis Ingham told Sky News the Lobbying Act introduced by David Cameron was “really, really narrow”, and must be “expanded to cover all lobbyists -that is what the industry wants”.

The Government should also be “publishing ministerial diaries so people can see who met with ministers”, he added.

“David Cameron introduced lobbying act, but he made it really really narrow in terms of who can sign up.” said Mr Ingham. “It excludes the majority of lobbying industry. The irony is that industry wants to be on the register – it is the Government that is restrciting standards here.

“The Government is behind the curve here and needs to amend the Lobbying Act and take its responsibilities seriously.”

09:04 AM

Julian Jessop: Was this the week the country finally accepted Brexit?

Sentiment towards Brexit has already taken a sharp turn for the better - Getty
Sentiment towards Brexit has already taken a sharp turn for the better – Getty

Brexit is not yet done and there are plenty of problems that still need fixing, especially in Northern Ireland. Nonetheless, public perceptions of Brexit have improved significantly, business concerns are fading, and now we have some hard evidence of a quick rebound in UK-EU trade too, writes Julian Jessop.

According to the latest Ipsos MORI poll, more Britons now think the decision to leave the EU has had a positive impact on the UK (39 per cent) than negative (38 per cent). Of course, this is well within the margin of error, but it reflects an eight-point increase in positive sentiment in just one month.

In addition, a new poll by JL Partners for Bloomberg suggests that if there were a referendum tomorrow, 56 per cent would vote to stay out of the EU and only 44 per cent to rejoin (excluding ‘don’t knows’ and ‘won’t says’).

This can largely be attributed to the mess that the EU is making of the response to Covid. Some will continue to argue that the UK could have developed, approved, and rolled out the vaccines more quickly even if still subject to the EU’s rules. But it is surely no coincidence that ‘Brexit Britain’ was the only country to go its own way.

Read the rest of Julian’s column here.

08:55 AM

Labour calls on ‘any Conservative who wants to stop cronyism’ to back lobbying committee

Labour is expecting a vote on its opposition day motion to create a cross-party committee to investigate lobbying in the wake of the Greensill row at around 4pm – here are the details.

While they are appealing to “any Conservative who wants to stop cronyism rampant in their party and Government”, the chatter so far is that most will abstain or vote against.

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08:35 AM

Could Britain be poised to withdraw troops from Afghanistan?

At its peak, the UK troop deployment in Afghanistan numbered nearly 10,000, - Getty
At its peak, the UK troop deployment in Afghanistan numbered nearly 10,000, – Getty

The UK appears to be preparing to follow the United States in pulling its troops out of Afghanistan by September.

President Joe Biden plans to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan before this year’s 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, finally ending America’s longest war despite mounting fears of a Taliban victory, according to US officials.

The Times said that Britain would follow suit in withdrawing its roughly 750 troops, citing sources as saying “they would struggle without American support because of a reliance on US bases and infrastructure”.

“We are working closely with the US, NATO allies and partners to support a secure and stable Afghanistan,” a government spokesman told AFP.

“Any change to our security presence will be made in agreement with allies and after consultation with our partners.”

08:17 AM

‘No big panic’ over Labour’s vote on anti-sleaze committee

Labour is hoping to win over MPs from Tory benches to back their call for a Parliament-led inquiry into David Cameron, Greensill and the wider accusations of sleaze and cronyism that have dogged the Government throughout the pandemic.

But, as one senior backbencher says, there appears to be “no big panic” from Downing Street.

“I’ve not even heard from my whip on it,” the MP says, noting that “they had got into the habit of just abstaining on opposition day motions”.

But the former minister was critical of Number 10 for “engineering the whole row to be about Cameron – forgetting they’ll all be sacked one day.”

The MP added: “It’s a really great way for Boris and his bunch of w*****s to **** over the reputation of anyone who went before – and also to stop them from ever getting any job anywhere.”

08:03 AM

Lord Frost heads to Brussels to discuss post-Brexit trade tensions in Northern Ireland

Lord Frost will travel to Brussels on Thursday  - Reuters
Lord Frost will travel to Brussels on Thursday – Reuters

Brexit minister Lord Frost and the European Commission’s Maros Sefcovic will hold talks in Brussels on Thursday as efforts continue to resolve issues around Northern Ireland.

The meeting was revealed by The Telegraph, and confirmed by the European Commission, which said the pair will “take stock of ongoing technical work” on the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The minister and the commission vice-president will also “provide a political steer for both teams on outstanding issues”.

Loyalists and unionists are vehemently opposed to the Northern Ireland Protocol, which has created new economic barriers between the region and the rest of the UK.

The arrangements, agreed by the UK and EU as a way to keep the land border on the island of Ireland free-flowing, have been cited as one of the key causal factors behind the violence.

07:50 AM

Labour urges MPs to back sleaze probe to rebuild ‘trust in democracy’

Labour has urged MPs across the House to back their vote to publicly investigate “lobbying, sleaze, cronyism and corruption” in the wake of Greensill.

Shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Rachel Reeves told GMB it was “about access to minsters, not because of what you can bring to the table but because if whose telephone number you have got”, adding “it is not the way Government should be done”.

She added: “MPs have a chance today to vote to have a special select committee to take evidence in public, to be able to require and summon witnesses but also documents and get to the bottom of this.

“This is much wider than just about what David Cameron has done, this is about what is happening at the heart of Government today.”

Ms Reeves said the scandal “undermines trust in our democracy”, adding: “This really matters, we need answers and MPs have a chance to vote for a proper inquiry today.”

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07:40 AM

If David Cameron didn’t break the rules ‘those rules must change’ says Labour

David Cameron's activities fell outside the scope of the Act he devised because he was employed directly by Greensill - AFP
David Cameron’s activities fell outside the scope of the Act he devised because he was employed directly by Greensill – AFP

David Cameron’s excuse that he “didn’t break the rules” suggests “those rules need to change”, a senior Labour MP has said.

Shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Rachel Reeves told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “One of the things Labour is recommending, and the Government could do very easily, would be to tighten up the rules about lobbying that former ministers, prime ministers and civil servants can do.”

She noted that the rules were stricter for those working for “one of the big lobbying companies” than a lobbyist employed in-house, adding: “That is why David Cameron is saying, ‘I didn’t break the rules’.”

Ms Reeves said: “Now, if it is the case that Cameron didn’t break the rules, then I think it says something about the rules and that those rules need to change so there is proper transparency so we can see what former ministers and prime ministers are doing.”

07:30 AM

Labour’s anti-sleaze vote ‘political opportunism’, says senior Tory

Tobias Ellwood has said MPs should 'slow down' and let the independent inquiry take place - PA
Tobias Ellwood has said MPs should ‘slow down’ and let the independent inquiry take place – PA

A former Conservative minister has said Labour’s vote on an anti-sleaze committee was “political opportunism”.

Tobias Ellwood told Times Radio: “What has happened is the former prime minister (David Cameron) has put up his hand and said I didn’t act in the spirit of the rules, you then have No 10 that have come out with their own investigation.

“These things should be allowed to take their course. The idea suddenly that we all, with the limited knowledge that we have, can make a judgment on this – it is political opportunism,” said the defence select committee chairman.

“Let’s see what happens with the review, it is being done independently – that is the process that we should do these things, not just jump on this bandwagon and the day after a review has been called say, ‘Right let’s have a determination by having a vote in the House’.

“We simply cannot do that, we don’t even have access to all the information, so let’s slow down on this but let’s get the right answer.”

07:29 AM

‘Careless’ Bill Crothers wrong to suggest dual jobs ‘not uncommon’, say advisers

Government advisers are challenging Bill Crothers’ assertion that it is “not uncommon” for civil servants to take second jobs.

The former senior official told Eric Pickles, chairman of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba), that “this advisory role was not seen as contentious, and I believe not uncommon”, suggesting other top mandarins had also taken on dual roles in the private sector.

But one adviser said he was “careless”, adding: “dual jobs not that widespread”.

Another added: “I was surprised they were allowed to do that. Any Spad [special adviser] with a brain would currently be asking their department if there are any current/recent ones”.

07:15 AM

Vaccination programme saved 10,000 lives, says expert

The vaccination programme has played second fiddle to lockdown in bringing down Covid cases and saving lives, an expert has said.

Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, a statistician from the University of Cambridge, said Boris Johnson was right that the lockdown had played a “major” part in cutting cases, with the vaccination programme assisting.

“We’ve estimated that the vaccination programme has maybe saved 10,000 lives – a fantastic success,” he said.

“But that is not what has brought the enormous reduction since earlier in the year – that is lockdown. But now it is keeping in that situation.”

He told Radio 4’s Today programme: “We only have to look over the Channel to mainland Europe to see this huge surge going throughout the continent – case rates are 10 times as high in Germany, 20 times as high in Sweden, death rates 10 times as high in France and Italy and going up.”

How many people have been vaccinated in the UK?
How many people have been vaccinated in the UK?

07:08 AM

Roadmap could be “reversed” because of South African variant, says expert

The spread of coronavirus variants could see the roadmap “reversed”, a scientist advising the Government said.

Professor Peter Openshaw said his fellow scientists were “very concerned” after a cluster of cases of the South African coronavirus variant were found in London, saying they could “put the reductions of lockdown into reverse”.

He told Newsnight: “A lot of we scientists are very concerned about what’s happening at the moment. “I think we’re all just hoping that the staged reduction in lockdown is going to be ok. It is being done reasonably cautiously but I think this is not good news.”

07:06 AM

Senior official who worked for Greensill had ‘sensitive role’, says former civil servant

The man embroiled in the latest chapter of the Greensill saga was “not just any civil servant”, but had a particularly “sensitive role”, a former official has said.

Jill Rutter, a senior research fellow at UK in a Changing Europe, told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “Bill Crothers wasn’t just any civil servant, he was the head of a thing called the Crown Commercial Service which oversees all that government buying activity.

“You’d have thought that if anyone was in a sensitive role, and anyone is looking for them to advise them, he is in a very difficult position to take a role with an external company and manage to avoid the conflicts of interest.

“What we haven’t seen yet is the Cabinet Office’s justification for saying it was OK but I have to say that among other former civil servants that I know, there was an awful lot of eyebrow raising going on last night.”

Ms Rutter said Mr Crothers seemed to have exploited a “loophole” in the rules which were an “obvious place for tightening up” in that he did not need Cabinet Office approval to take a job with Greensill as he had already been doing work for them while in the Civil Service.

07:00 AM

Boris Johnson’s Government ‘doesn’t think it has to abide by the rules’, says former civil servant

Robert Jenrick was embroiled in a row last year about his involvement in the Westferry Development planning decisions - Reuters
Robert Jenrick was embroiled in a row last year about his involvement in the Westferry Development planning decisions – Reuters

Former civil servant Jill Rutter said there was a danger that Boris Johnson’s Government appeared to think it did not have to “abide by the rules”.

Asked whether the current administration was a “sleazy Government”, she told the Today programme: “I think it is tracking up a record that might come back to haunt it.

“Last summer I was writing stuff about (Communities Secretary) Robert Jenrick – remember that thing with the Westferry development, the planning decisions and some of the other decisions he has made?

“I think this is a Government that doesn’t think it has to abide by the rules and that gets you into a whole bunch of trouble.

“At the moment it doesn’t seem to be paying a high price, but who knows?”

06:48 AM

Civil servant allowed to join Greensill while working in Whitehall

A senior civil servant was granted permission to join the lender Greensill Capital while still working at the highest levels of government, a watchdog has revealed.

Bill Crothers was head of Whitehall procurement, in control of a £15 billion annual purchasing budget, when he took on an external role as part-time adviser to the finance company’s board in September 2015.

Boris Johnson was understood to be personally concerned about the disclosure on Tuesday night, while Labour described it as “extraordinary and shocking”, renewing demands for an MP-led inquiry into the lobbying row engulfing Greensill and David Cameron.

The lender, which filed for insolvency last month, has been at the centre of controversy over the access its founder Lex Greensill was granted to numerous Whitehall departments during Mr Cameron’s administration.

The former prime minister then went on to join Greensill in 2018, and has been revealed to have directly lobbied Rishi Sunak and a series of other ministers on the company’s behalf.

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