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“Integrity, professionalism, accountability. That’s what I promised when I stood on the steps of Downing Street and that is what we have delivered”, Rishi Sunak said last week as he announced his new programme for Government in the King’s Speech.
Fast forward one week and Sunak has not just ripped up this commitment but set it on fire.
His decision to appoint David Cameron as his new Foreign Secretary is both desperate and shameless.
It is desperate in that Cameron’s appointment gives a lie to Sunak’s promise to represent “change” and a challenge to the “old consensus”. However, it is shameless in that it means Sunak has appointed the lead figure in the biggest lobbying scandal to hit the UK Government in recent years.
Cameron’s appointment comes two years after BBC Panorama revealed documents suggesting Mr Cameron had made about made about £8 million promoting Greensill Capital, whose boss Lex Greensill had previously been given his own office in Downing Street. The company, which collapsed in 2021, left investors missing billions of dollars, with criminal inquiries ongoing to this day in Germany and Switzerland.
Before it collapsed Cameron made multiple calls and sent dozens of texts to civil servants from outside Government, in a successful bid to allow Greensill to lend £10bn in emergency Covid loans. The BBC later reported that Cameron had also been lobbying the then Business Minister Nadhim Zahawi, who proved to be instrumental in securing Greensill the right to lend hundreds of millions of pounds to eight separate companies under the scheme.
A spokesman for Cameron has previously insisted that he acted in good faith throughout the scandal. However, a report by the House of Commons’ Treasury Select Committee in 2021 found that he had been guilty of a “significant lack of judgment” and that while he may not have broken any lobbying rules “that reflects on the insufficient strength of the rules” rather than any exemplary behaviour by the former Prime Minister.
At the very least the ongoing criminal investigations into Greensill should have given pause to a Prime Minister supposedly committed to retaining ‘integrity’ in public office. Yet far from taking that pause, Sunak has instead simply placed the disgraced former Prime Minister right back at the centre of Government.
As a former MP, Cameron will not even be accountable to the electorate and will instead simply be handed a seat in the House of Lords without any ability for elected representatives to hold him to account.
Asked if Cameron has given up all of his many outside business interests before taking on his new job, Rishi Sunak’s spokesman declined to say, adding only that they will “ensure all relevant interests will be managed appropriately”.
Of course none of this should come as a surprise to anyone seriously following Sunak’s premiership. Despite promising to offer a break from the dishonesty and unethical behaviour of Boris Johnson, Sunak’s Government has, if anything, been even less transparent than its predecessor.
His continued refusal to fully publicly declare his wife’s financial interests, means that big questions remain about conflicts between his own financial affairs and those of his Government.
Just last month it emerged that Sunak’s own Covid fund had paid nearly £2million into four startup companies linked to his wife, three of which later went into administration.
The revelation came after Sunak was rebuked for failing to previously publicly declare his wife’s investment in a childcare company that benefited from another Government scheme.
That revelation followed Sunak’s Government announcing that it would hand £600 ‘incentive payments’ to new childminders joining the profession, with these incentives doubling to £1,200 if people signed up through one of six private childcare agencies singled out by the Government.
Asked at Parliament’s Liaison Committee, by Labour MP Catherine McKinnell whether he had any personal interests he needed to declare about the decision, he flatly denied having any.
“No all my disclosures are declared in the normal way,” Sunak told McKinnell.
In reality they had not been.
Within hours it emerged that Sunak’s own wife held shares in one of the agencies set to benefit from his decision. Not only this, but the bosses of the agency had been personally invited into a Downing Street reception that took place just hours after the Prime Minister was questioned about it by MPs.
None of this had been declared by Sunak, either directly, or on his public register of interests.
Also undeclared by Sunak were the details of what was included in the “blind management trust” managing his own financial investments.
This arrangement is ostensibly designed to prevent the Prime Minister from personally being involved in any future investment decisions that may be affected by his own policies.
However, by placing his existing investments within this “blind” arrangement, the public are prevented from ever knowing which Government policies are directly enriching the Prime Minister and his family.
The circumstances in which Cameron has been re-appointed to Government also give the lie to Sunak’s claims of integrity.
Although brought in as part of a wider reshuffle, Cameron’s return was only triggered due to the collapse of relations between Sunak and his former Home Secretary Suella Braverman.
Braverman, who was last forced out of Government just over a year ago for a breach of the Ministerial Code, was brought back into Government by Sunak just six days later.
Since then she has continued to bring her office into disrepute with a series of deeply offensive comments about everyone from gay refugees, to homeless people to pro-Palestinian protesters.
Yet while now seeking credit for her removal from office, the reality is that Sunak only moved against her after her behaviour started to impact on his own personal reputation and authority.
As with Braverman, so too with David Cameron. Despite his claims, what this reshuffle really shows is that whenever faced with a choice between political principle and self-preservation, Sunak has always chosen the latter at the expense of the former.