Boris Johnson faces calls for ‘meaningful change’ amid lobbying storm

Boris Johnson is facing Tory calls for ‘meaningful change’ as the lobbying storm threatens to derail the elections battle.

The Conservative chair of a cross-party committee investigating the issue has warned that ‘something must be done’ after a slew of revelations about links between politics and business.

Cabinet minister George Eustice insisted yesterday that only ‘tweaks’ are needed to the system, as he stressed that David Cameron had broken no rules despite anger over how he approached colleagues on behalf of Greensill Capital. 

But William Wragg, who heads the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, suggested that fiddling at the edges will not be enough. 

A roll call of power players is expected to be summoned by the PACAC inquiry.

Mr Cameron has already indicated he would give evidence, while Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and John Major are also set to be called as the committee looks at the ‘revolving door’ between government and the private sector.  

Theresa May is the only living premier unlikely to be grilled, as she is still an MP serving in the Commons. 

Mr Wragg told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour: ‘There’s an understanding that something must be done, but as often in politics we have to translate that natural understanding into tangible proposals.

‘I think we can all approach this in a fairly consensual, cross-party way to make sure that we do have meaningful change.’

Mr Johnson has ordered a separate Cabinet Office investigation overseen by legal expert Nigel Boardman as he scrambles to defuse the lobbying row. 

The premier is also on the verge of appointing a new adviser on ministerial interests, months after the departure of Sir Alex Allan in a row over his report on alleged bullying by Priti Patel.   

Boris Johnson

A roll call of power players is expected to be summoned by William Wragg’s (left) Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, with Boris Johnson (right) scrambling to stem the damage from the lobbying storm

David Cameron (pictured on a trip to Saudi Arabia with Lex Greensill) has already indicated he will give evidence to inquiries

David Cameron (pictured on a trip to Saudi Arabia with Lex Greensill) has already indicated he will give evidence to inquiries

The PACAC probe is one of a bewildering array of inquiries being launched into ties between politics, Whitehall and business. 

Mr Cameron has been hit with criticism over securing access to ministers for finance firm Greensill, whose collapse now risks thousands of jobs, particularly in the steel sector. He has denied breaking rules, but admitted he should have used more formal routes to make approaches.

The saga deepened last week after it emerged the former head of government procurement, Bill Crothers, took a part-time position with the firm while in his Whitehall post.

Mr Eustice – a former press secretary for Mr Cameron – yesterday insisted his old boss had not broken any rules or ‘taken advantage’ of the arrangements. 

He also suggested there will only be tweaks to the protocols for avoiding conflicts, saying the current arrangements were ‘pretty good’. 

Mr Cameron has denied any wrongdoing but conceded that in hindsight he should have made approaches in a more ‘formal’ way. 

Mr Eustice told Sky News’ Ridge On Sunday: ‘I think the right thing is for these reviews to go through their process, to conclude, to work out exactly what did and what did not happen and then yes, of course there may come a time after that when it is right to consider tweaks to policy.

‘But fundamentally, I think the systems we have in place with ministers declaring interests with the ministerial code and the focus on that and how ministers conduct themselves in office is actually a pretty good one.

‘But that is not to say you couldn’t make tweaks or changes, and also there will be a time and a place for that after these reviews have concluded.’ 

Mr Eustice insisted Mr Cameron had not broken any rules or ‘taken advantage’ of the arrangements.

‘Well look, he himself has said that with hindsight it probably would have been better if, rather than texting ministers, if he had instead written letters to set out his views more formally,’ Mr Eustice said.

‘But I think the real point is. ‘has he done anything wrong?’ Well, on the face of it, no. There’s a review that is going on, we mustn’t prejudge that.’

Pushed on whether Mr Cameron exploited the rules, Mr Eustice added: ‘I don’t think he took advantage of any rules, no. He meticulously observed the rules there that he himself actually put in place after some concerns around lobbying a decade ago.

‘He put in place these restrictions on what ministers can do for a period of two years.

‘But look, he himself has conceded that with hindsight, if he had his time again, he wouldn’t have texted Rishi Sunak and wouldn’t have texted others – he would instead have written through formal channels.’

David Cameron

Tony Blair

David Cameron (left) has faced a wave of criticism about his lobbying of ministers on behalf of Greensill. Tony Blair (right) could also be called by PACAC

Theresa May is the only living former PM unlikely to be grilled, as she is still an MP serving in the Commons

Theresa May is the only living former PM unlikely to be grilled, as she is still an MP serving in the Commons 

Gordon Brown

John Major

Gordon Brown and John Major could be summoned by the Parliamentary Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee to discuss the issues of links between government and business 

Labour accused the government of ‘shrugging its shoulders’ in the face of the backlash.

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves said: ‘Having failed to deflect the blame, the Government’s latest approach appears to be to shrug their shoulders and say ”scandal? What scandal?”.’

Mr Johnson was yesterday warned failure to tackle the ‘shameful’ lobbying storm could cost him votes as a crucial round of elections loom.

Senior Tory Sir Bernard Jenkin appealed for the PM to get a grip after a slew of revelations in the wake of Greensill Capital’s collapse into administration.

Unless he is more ‘transparent’ the row could hit the ‘Red Wall’ support that delivered Mr Johnson’s historic 2019 majority, Sir Bernard said.

The scale of damage could become clear within weeks, with a wave of elections on May 6 including councils, mayors and a by-election in Hartlepool – a seat traditionally held by Labour but within the grasp of the Conservatives if their working-class surge continues. 

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