Today
Thu 29 July 2021

The former Prime Minister and one of his clients met with a business minister days before the Greensill lobbying scandal hit the headlines

Government minister Nadhim Zahawi held a summit in March this year with David Cameron and a firm that employs the former Prime Minister, Byline Times can reveal.

Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) records show that Under-Secretary of State Zahawi met with Cameron and a company called Illumina on 1 March to discuss “UK genomics sequencing”.

Illumina is a US-owned company that specialises in genomic and biological analysis. The former Prime Minister joined its ranks in 2017 as a consultant and chairman of the international advisory board.

The Times reported in April that Illumina had secured a £123 million contract with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), just a week after Cameron appeared with the then Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock at a genomics conference in September 2019. The contract was awarded without competition.

Cameron has denied lobbying the Government on any Illumina contracts, saying that his role at the company was solely to promote the benefits of genome sequencing.

In recent months, Cameron has been immersed in a scandal involving another client – financial services company Greensill Capital. It was revealed in mid-March, not long after the Zahawi-Illumina meeting, that Cameron had lobbied senior officials and Cabinet ministers, including the Chancellor, on behalf of Greensill.

Cameron was attempting to secure greater involvement for Greensill in the Government’s emergency COVID-19 loans scheme. Ultimately, it rejected Greensill’s proposals despite Cameron’s persistent lobbying, with the firm filing for insolvency protection on 8 March, after its insurer walked away.

It was later revealed that Lex Greensill, its owner, had worked for the Cabinet Office as an unpaid advisor from 2012 to 2015, during Cameron’s time in Downing Street. Greensill had also been commissioned by the Government to introduce an early payment facility for health workers and a working capital programme for pharmacies.

Today, Parliament’s Treasury Committee has concluded in a report into the Greensill affair that Cameron showed a “significant lack of judgement” in the way he lobbied the Government. Although Cameron did not break any lobbying rules, there is a “good case for strengthening them,” the committee says.

Indeed, the lobbyist register only logs companies and self-employed consultants, rather than individuals working for firms. Cameron’s work for Greensill was therefore not recorded. The Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA) – a watchdog designed to police the jobs that ex-ministers and senior officials take after they have left office – also only covers the two years after an individual has left their Government role.

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The Financial Times reported on 12 July that Cameron was paid $1 million a year – equivalent to $40,000 a day – by Greensill. His income from Illumina is unknown.

Cameron’s meeting with Zahawi and Illumina raises further questions about the regulation and monitoring of lobbying activities by former Government employees. The records released by BEIS, for example, do not declare Cameron’s commercial interest in the firm – while the minutes of the meeting are limited to a five-word sentence.

There is no suggestion of wrongdoing by Illumina, David Cameron or the Government. The rules, as they are currently devised, allow these activities to take place with little transparency.

There has also been controversy over a number of meetings that have been held between ministers and private companies during the Coronavirus pandemic. Byline Times recently revealed that the DHSC failed to declare 27 meetings held by Health Minister Lord James Bethell at the start of the crisis. The firms involved went on to acquire public sector contracts worth £1.14 billion.

The Government has strongly refuted any suggestion of cronyism during the past 16 months. However, in failing to uphold high standards of transparency, there will inevitably be an underlying suspicion that it may have something to hide.

“This meeting was in no way connected to government contracts and none were discussed,” a DHSC spokesperson said. “Proper due diligence is carried out for all government contracts and we take these checks extremely seriously.”

Illumina and the office of David Cameron were contacted for comment.

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