According to British journalist Andrew Pierce, the “earnest” rivalry that has been going on between Boris Johnson and David Cameron since Eton College is behind the prime minister’s recent inquiry into his pal’s apparent lobbying efforts.
What is the Inquiry About?
Cameron is being accused of lobbying for Greensill Capital, the firm he has been advising since 2018, while sending multiple text messages to Chancellor Rishi Sunak and other treasury ministers in a bid to convince them to give the firm access to a loan scheme: Covid Corporate Financing Facility (CCFF).
According to reports, this access would have brought Cameron “millions of pounds” through his position at the firm, but this proposal was rejected by the Treasury. In one of the emails to an unnamed Downing Street adviser, Cameron had allegedly said that it “seems nuts” not to include the company into the scheme.
Greensill Capital was eventually given access to another COVID support blueprint, the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CLBILS), and its tens of millions of pounds set aside for loans. In March 2021, the company went into administration, laying off hundreds of workers. Before that, it lost its access to loans through CLBILS, Sky News reports, citing the company’s breach of the scheme’s rules.
It’s difficult to say whether Cameron has done anything wrong with his push to give his company access to the lucrative scheme. A watchdog previously cleared him of any wrongdoings and the ex-prime minister insists that he has broken "no codes of conduct and no government rules" with his efforts, which he said did not require registration.
Cameron was already out of office when he joined the firm and thus didn’t need a special clearance from the vetting committee when landing the position. The politician also denies having a close relationship with the company’s founder Lex Greensill while prime minister, although the financier is said to have been his “senior adviser” back then. This is serious enough to put the whole situation under scrutiny and re-asses lobbying rules in the country as such.
There are also ongoing concerns among critics that Cameron could have used his past connections in Westminster to help his current company earn big bucks. The former prime minister has agreed in a statement: there are "lessons to be learnt" from his behaviour.
But some now suspect there's much more to the probe than simple concerns about public money…
‘Boris Needling Dave’
Boris Johnson has known his fellow Conservative pal – or rival, as Andrew Pierce puts it in the Daily Mail piece - since Eton College, with the prime minister once recalling how he “dimly” remembers “a time chap known as Cameron Minor”.
According to the journalist, Johnson was “the academic high-achiever” at Eton but at Oxford “their fortunes” diverged, with Cameron performing slightly better than the current prime minister.
“Boris scoffed that those who got Firsts were 'girly swots who wasted their time at university' but privately he was embarrassed he hadn't achieved the same grade,” Pierce writes.
When Cameron landed the position of Conservative party leader, he “conspicuously gave no big job to Boris.” Cameron apparently believed Johnson “wasn't sufficiently serious or hard-working,” but reportedly pressured Boris to run for London Mayor to rise in the ranks.
That was a shinning moment for Johnson, who still “never missed a chance to outshine the PM”, while envying his former schoolmate for getting the prime minister job just at the age of 43.
The two have repeatedly traded jabs since then, while still trying to make impression of a good friendship in public – despite a public skirmish over a “briefing note” paper once observed by astonished aides while Johnson was still London's mayor.
“For decades now, they have been earnest rivals, constantly trying to outdo each other,” Pierce insists.
So according to one former MP who is close to Cameron, there is much more to the ongoing inquiry than concerns about public safety and lobbying laws.
“This could have been swerved by No10 but instead Boris has fanned the flames with the inquiry,” the insider told Pierce. “No10 says it's all about transparency, but I think it's partly about Boris needling Dave.”
Meanwhile, Downing Street has rejected Labour’s calls for a broader parliamentary inquiry into the company, saying that the current review carried out by a government lawyer, Nigel Boardman, was just about right.
The Labour party in response accused the prime minister of “whipping his MPs to vote to cover up Conservative cronyism".