Wednesday briefing: Greensill lobbying row deepens

Martin Farrer
·7 min read
<span>Photograph: David Hecker/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: David Hecker/Getty Images

Top story: Crothers role was approved by officials

Morning everyone. This is Martin Farrer with all today’s top stories.

The scandal over Greensill Capital’s links to the government has deepened after it emerged that a senior civil servant began working for the finance firm as an adviser while still serving in Whitehall – and that his role was approved the Cabinet Office. Following revelations about former prime minister David Cameron’s lobbying on behalf of the failed company, Downing Street sources were said to be “deeply concerned” at the revelation that official approval was given for Bill Crothers to begin advising Greensill in September 2015 while still employed as the government’s chief commercial officer. He left the Whitehall job two months later and went on to become a director of Greensill, gaining a shareholding potentially worth $8m (£5.8m). Crothers has denied any wrongdoing and said such outside roles were “not uncommon”. Cameron, who was prime minister between 2010 and 2016, has also denied breaking any rules.

Labour is pushing for a wide-ranging parliamentary inquiry into Cameron’s role on Greensill’s board and his efforts to secure Covid crisis funding for the Australian-founded firm, which collapsed with huge debts last month. The opposition says the independent inquiry set up by the government under Nigel Boardman does not have a broad enough remit and is a coverup.

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Covid caution – Boris Johnson looks set on collision course with many of his own backbenchers after acknowledging that easing lockdown will lead to more deaths as the population begins to mix more freely, and crediting the restrictions rather than the vaccination programme as the reason for Britain’s current low Covid-19 fatality rates. The Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs has pushed for more rapid easing on the back of the large number of vaccine doses already delivered, and will be alarmed at the prime minister’s warning that the vaccine alone will not lead back to normality. Scientists have also dampened enthusiasm about the reopening of pubs and restaurants in England by warning that surge testing will not be enough to curb Covid variants from spreading. There’s also a cautionary tale from India where, despite 108 million people being immunised, the easing of curbs has led to a deadly new wave. With the Johnson & Johnson vaccine delayed and countries such as Australia struggling with their rollouts, our health editor looks at how Britain’s decision to source several different vaccines appears to have paid off.

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Afghan withdrawal – Joe Biden is expected to announce later today that all remaining US troops in Afghainstan will be withdrawn before the 20th anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks later this year. There are around 2,500 US personnel in the country, along with 7,000 other foreign troops as part of a Nato coalition. British troops are included in the Nato forces and are also expected to be withdrawn before September.

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Neighbours dispute – A longstanding cast member of Neighbours has claimed she endured “direct, indirect and casual racism” on set in the latest such allegation to hit the long-running Australian soap. Sharon Johal, who plays Dipi Rebecchi, says she endured racial slurs and mockery but alleges no action was taken. Indigenous actor Shareena Clanton alleged last week that a cast member had to be removed from the set after repeatedly using racial slurs. The show’s producer, Fremantle Asia Pacific, said it would conduct an independent review into the allegations.

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Full time – The footballer Marcus Rashford, fresh from forcing the government into a u-turn over school meals, is teaming up with the Michelin-starred chef Tom Kerridge to launch a series of “how-to” films to inspire families to cook cheap, healthy and filling meals. Each recipe will cost between 25p and £1 and will include chicken stir fry, broccoli and cauliflower cheese, and fish finger sandwiches.

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Royal duty – The Queen has returned to royal duties four days after the death of her husband, Prince Philip, as she presided over a ceremony at Windsor to mark the retirement of her household’s most senior official. William Peel, the Lord Chamberlain, has overseen the arrangements for the prince’s funeral on Saturday, but is quitting the role after 14 years. On the Pacific island of Tanna, villagers who revered Philip as one of their own believe his spirit will live on, possibly through Prince Charles.

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Bunny bounty – The thieves who stole a giant rabbit from its enclosure in Worcestershire will most likely be trying to smuggle him out of the country in order to realise any value for the “collector’s item”. Robert Kenny, a professional pet detective, said Darius, who measures 121cm in length, was “still hot” and that borders should be closed to stop the animal being removed.

Today in Focus podcast

Boris Johnson has announced plans for a domestic Covid-status certificate. We look to Israel, where a similar scheme has been introduced, and discuss how it might work here.

Lunchtime read: Parminder Nagra: ‘The landscape’s changing’

Bend It Like Beckham launched Parminder Nagra on a journey from Leicester to Los Angeles – and she’s now bound for outer space after success in ER. As Intergalactic hits our small screens this month, she tells Coco Khan about how the film industry has changed for South Asian people since Bend It, and why she misses British banter.

Sport

After a break of seven years, Chelsea are back in the Champions League semi-finals where Real Madrid or Liverpool await. A 2-0 win over Porto last week ultimately proved enough for Thomas Tuchel’s team despite a 1-0 defeat in last night’s second leg. Paris Saint-Germain showed immense fortitude and wonderful flashes of skill to depose holders Bayern Munich and advance to a semi-final with either Manchester City or Borussia Dortmund. A woefully toothless England suffered a ninth defeat in 14 games after conceding two calamitous goals against Canada. Gareth Southgate has stressed the importance of discipline off the pitch after Leicester’s James Maddison dashed his slim hopes of making England’s squad for Euro 2020 by attending a party that breached Covid-19 protocols.

Team GB’s athletes at the Olympic Games this summer will be powered by 45,000 teabags, more than 7,000 bags of crisps and nearly 8,000 porridge pots, the Guardian can reveal. Warren Gatland has warned that British & Irish Lions hopefuls based in England face the prospect of missing out on the South Africa tour unless Premiership Rugby softens its stance in an escalating disagreement over player release.

Business

W Galen Weston, the Anglo-Canadian retailer who built an empire including Primark, Selfridges and Twinings tea, has died aged 80. Weston inherited the family business from his father but expanded it on both sides of the Atlantic into a group that also includes Fortnum & Mason and the Canadian grocery chain Loblaws. The megaship Ever Given, which got jammed in the Suez canal last month, has become stuck again. Red tape is to blame this time after the Egyptian authorities impounded the vessel and demanded $900m from its owners in compensation for delays caused by the blockage in the canal. The pound will fetch you $1.375 and €1.150, while the FTSE 100 is also set to open flat.

The papers

Many of the front pages build the pressure on David Cameron over the Greensill scandal. The Guardian lead is “Revealed: top civil servant’s role at scandal-hit Greensill”, while the Times has “Top Cameron mandarin took job from Greensill” and the Mail says “Cameron mandarin snared by lobbying scandal”. The Mirror has a picture of Cameron and the company’s founder drinking tea together on a visit to Saudi Arabia.

The Telegraph also has that photograph but leads on “Quarter of virus deaths not caused by Covid”. The FT also leads with Covid, reporting that “J&J halts vaccine rollout in Europe as US agencies review blood clots” and the i has “Vaccines for under-40s in six weeks”. The Sun reports on the rush for pub bookings – “Thirst in the queue” – but the Express sticks to the big royal story: “The Queen wants to live close to Philip”.

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