When the extent of former British Prime Minister David Cameron’s involvement in lobbying for the investment company Greensill Capital was revealed by the BBC’s “Panorama” programme this week, the revelations went far beyond his role in the scandal. It goes back years but the investigation was only launched properly earlier this year.
In short, Cameron was reported to have lobbied ministers and senior civil servants to get the Bank of England to invest $10 billion of British taxpayers’ money in Greensill’s loans. Claiming that the investment would help British businesses to stay on their feet during the Covid-19 pandemic, Cameron’s lobbying was unsuccessful until June 2020, when the government finally approved Greensill as a lender under a scheme to help companies and businesses.
It was under that Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan (CLBIL) scheme that the state-owned British Business Bank allowed the company to provide loans backed by an 80 per cent taxpayer guarantee. Over the course of that scheme, however, Greensill went beyond the condition to provide a limit of £50 million loans to each company by giving a loan of £350 million to seven companies owned by the British-Indian businessman Sanjeev Gupta.
On the other side of the Atlantic, Greensill also lent $850 million of investors’ money to the American coal company Bluestone Resources, of which only $70 million was secured against real invoices. The remaining $780 million, meanwhile, was backed merely by speculation about Bluestone’s predicted coal sales.
With Gupta’s companies not repaying the taxpayer loans, they were put under investigation and the government guarantee was suspended. In March this year, Greensill collapsed and went into administration, with British taxpayers predicted to lose around £320 million.
Setting aside the many complexities of the scandal, Cameron’s role made him a total profit of $10 million before tax while lobbying the British government to approve Greensill and its operations. Since the revelations came to light, Cameron’s spokesperson has claimed that the former Prime Minister only served on the advisory board of the company and was not aware of its financial shortcomings, difficulties or planning.
There is another and more political side to the story, however. The scandal not only exposed the links that international businesses have with current or former political figures, but also illustrated the Conservative Party’s involvement in lobbying for foreign individuals, companies and other entities.
Details of the party’s involvement in lobbying emerged even more over the past month, but in an entirely different and more political direction when former Defence Secretary Liam Fox was appointed to lead the UK Abraham Accords Group. The Abraham Accords – the name given to the normalisation of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco last year – now have a base in Britain, giving London a larger role in the expanding relations between Tel Aviv and Arab states.
Apart from the fact that the position was basically gifted to Fox by the ambassadors of Bahrain, the UAE and Israel rather than by the British government, the appointment looks stranger when the former minister’s already long-held engagement with those countries over the course of his career is considered.
As Defence Secretary from 2010 to 2011 (under the premiership of Cameron, coincidentally), Fox made numerous trips to Israel, the UAE and Bahrain – among other countries – discussing and signing deals, and attending undeclared meetings. In October 2011, however, he was forced to resign after an investigation found that he had breached regulations by having his friend Adam Werritty accompany him on at least 18 of those trips abroad and allowing him to attend the majority of his meetings and events, all without security clearance by the Ministry of Defence.
That working relationship between Fox and Werritty, both ardent Zionists and members of the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI), took an even darker turn when the investigation discovered that pro-Israel businessmen linked to Tel Aviv financed Werritty’s trips abroad with Fox and offered him lucrative deals and discounts.
At that time, Werritty was also contracted by the lobbying firm Tetra Strategy, with the aim of gaining access to Fox in order to hold meetings and have the minister intervene in a legal dispute into which it had indirectly drawn the Ministry of Defence.
What the entire affair revealed a decade ago – especially with Werritty’s role as an informal advisor which ultimately pushed Fox to resign – was that the unregulated and non-transparent activities of lobbyists in British politics interferes directly with London’s relations with other nations. It also highlights the way that business deals and financial interests are put before national and political interests.
More than that, though, it revealed the vast network of lobbyists, firms and foreign businessmen, and the relationships they have deep within Britain’s Conservative Party.
A decade after those events took place, and barely a year after David Cameron’s lobbying for Greensill Capital took effect, there may be legitimate concerns that Fox’s appointment as head of the UK Abraham Accords Group demonstrates the consequences of further lobbying in the Conservative Party and the British government.
All of this comes amid growing condemnation over Conservative Party co-chair Ben Elliot’s coordination with the Saudi Arabian and Bahraini ambassadors, who aim to grant a prominent donor a leading position in the party’s relations with the Middle East. The opposition Labour Party and others have, unsurprisingly, called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to sack Elliot, claiming that his efforts and those of Gulf ambassadors only further kleptocrat elements within British politics.
Only time will tell what Fox’s appointment will result in, but it almost certainly means that lobbying would ensure the deepening of Israeli-Arab relations with direct involvement from London. Worryingly, this could mean yet further disregard for the poor human rights records of the Arab states in question, as well as Israel’s continued infringement of Palestinian rights and breaches of international law.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.