End system that kept David Cameron’s Greensill lobbying WhatsApps secret, MPs urge

End system that kept David Cameron’s Greensill lobbying WhatsApps secret, MPs urge

Rules that failed to reveal David Cameron’s WhatsApp lobbying of ministers on behalf of disgraced financier Lex Greensill should be reformed, an influential group of MPs have said.

At the height of the Covid pandemic the foreign secretary and his staff sent 45 emails, texts, and messages about Greensill, including nine WhatsApps to the then chancellor Rishi Sunak.

The contact from Lord Cameron, then a former prime minister who had been out of office for almost half a decade, emerged only after Greensill Capital collapsed in 2021.

They showed he wrote to one senior official during the pandemic that he hoped to “see you with Rishi’s (sic) for an elbow bump or foot tap. Love Dc”.

He also texted Michael Gove, when Boris Johnson was isolating with Covid symptoms, saying: “I know you are manically busy – and doing a great job, by the way (this is bloody hard and I think the team is coping extremely well. But do you have a moment for a word? I am on this number and v free. All good wishes Dc.”

Tory MP David Jones, the acting chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, said: “Increasingly, lobbying activity is undertaken on instant messaging channels such as WhatsApp and this is an area which we think needs greater transparency, to bring it in line with reporting of face-to-face meetings held with ministers, in order to increase public confidence in the democratic process.”

WhatApps should be subject to the same disclosure regime as face-to-face meetings – which must be reported, according to the committee. They should also be blocked on official devices if no transparency regime that “can command public confidence” has been implemented, the MPs recommend.

Applying those rules would “likely have required” the disclosure of Greensill Capital's interactions with ministers and officials, their inquiry found.

Their report also calls for all special adviser meetings to be disclosed.

Cameron had been out of office for almost a decade when he lobbied ministers (Getty)
Cameron had been out of office for almost a decade when he lobbied ministers (Getty)

At the moment they only have to list those with senior media figures, which the MPs say is “anomalous” and one which “undermines public confidence in the integrity of the lobbying process”.

The committee also calls for disclosures to be made monthly instead of quarterly, warning that “information may be several months old by the time it is released”.

During their inquiry, the group heard concerns about missing information, including ministers’ meetings with companies that were announced on social media but were not included in the transparency releases.

Mr Jones added: “Lobbying in Whitehall is recognised as a key feature of our democracy, but the current legislation and transparency regime does not ensure that the public is fully informed about influences being brought to bear on policy formulation, across government and non-government parties alike.”

A government spokesperson said: “As you would expect, modern government will use a variety of communication channels, but we have clear guidance in place on the use of electronic communications, including WhatsApp.

“We updated this guidance in March 2023 for WhatsApp, to reiterate that all relevant information must be recorded through official channels. Both the High Court and the Court of Appeal have been clear on the lawfulness of this approach.

“We also committed in our revised transparency guidance, published in December, to stricter standards to ensure transparency returns and publications contain relevant and instructive information.”