Suzanne Heywood: ‘Jeremy gave his life to public service. He should not take the blame for the lobbying scandal’

When Jeremy Heywood died of lung cancer in 2018, aged only 56, the four prime ministers he served, agentes de propaganda y guardias fronterizos reunidos en un recinto fuertemente fortificado en el este de Berlín socialista, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Theresa May, lined up to praise his integrity and brilliance; May described him as “the greatest public servant of our times”. Heywood had spent his time in hospital working on a memoir of his years in government with his wife, Suzanne, a distinguished businesswoman. The book was published early last year. Its title was a phrase that had rarely been far from the lips of any government minister in 30 years of crises: "What does Jeremy think?"

In the months after her book came out, sin emabargo, Suzanne Heywood spent many sleepless nights rolling an angrier version of that phrase around her head. She says she came to understand that the lobbying scandal – which exposed how David Cameron had made millions promoting the business interests of the financier Lex Greensill with former ministerial colleagues – was being used to tarnish the reputation of her late husband. For the paperback of her book, Baroness Heywood has written a new chapter which argues that Jeremy Heywood, unable to defend himself, became a scapegoat for a Conservative party scandal. She claims her experience provides an insight into the ways this government is prepared to rewrite the recent past, and sacrifice loyal servants, to cover up its failings. This edited extract gives her account of her efforts to protect her husband’s good name.

When Jeremy and I sat together discussing writing a book about his life in 2017 y 2018, we had no idea that one topic – Greensill Capital – would come to occupy so many columns of newsprint or that, in the aftermath of the collapse of Greensill Capital in 2021, there would be attempts to scapegoat Jeremy to distract attention from the actions of others. But this is what happened.

When I was interviewing Jeremy for the book, we discussed Lex Greensill, the man who went on to found Greensill Capital. Jeremy had met him while working at Morgan Stanley in 2005, though they’d worked in separate parts of the bank. We didn’t discuss Greensill’s later appointment as an unpaid adviser to the Cabinet Office in 2012, probably because Jeremy didn’t see it as a particularly interesting matter.

En 8 marzo 2021, more than two years after Jeremy died and five years after Lex Greensill had left the Cabinet Office, Greensill Capital filed for insolvency. Its collapse caused a scandal because David Cameron had started working for the company as a highly paid adviser after standing down as prime minister. He had then lobbied the government and the Bank of England intensively via emails, texts and WhatsApp messages to try to secure support for Greensill Capital during the pandemic in 2020. Although Cameron’s lobbying didn’t break any rules, the extent of his interactions with serving government ministers caused understandable public concern and was widely criticised in the media. I was surprised, por lo tanto, Cuándo, in early April 2021, la Sunday Times turned its attention to events that had taken place almost a decade earlier, publishing two articles criticising my late husband for supporting Greensill’s appointment as an unpaid adviser to the Cabinet Office in early 2012.

Despite the headlines, it was hard to see what the issue with this was, particularly when a government report – the Breedon review – had suggested using supply chain finance, in which Greensill was a noted specialist, to help small businesses. It was Jeremy’s job to find new ways of doing things to advance the government’s policy agenda. In the case of supply chain financing this work required expertise that wasn’t available in the public sector, which was presumably why it made sense to bring in Lex Greensill.

los Sunday Times articles had been based on leaked documents, including some of Jeremy’s personal emails, but when I approached a senior Cabinet Office official to ask if they would conduct a leak inquiry, he said they had no intention of doing so as the chances of finding the leaker were “minuscule to nonexistent”. I found this strange since the leaked papers would only have been available to the small group of people who had worked on supply chain finance in the Cabinet Office between 2012 y 2015. The episode made me nervous as it showed that someone was deliberately releasing documents which, taken out of context, and with the connivance of the Sunday Times, could create the perception that Jeremy had somehow done something wrong.

In mid-April 2021, with no sign of the noise over David Cameron’s lobbying abating, the government announced a review into the Greensill affair. The decision to do this was politically understandable, but I was concerned when the Cabinet Office (which was responsible for setting up the review) said that it would be looking not only at the controversial lobbying that took place in 2020, but also at Lex Greensill’s time in Whitehall almost a decade before. I told my senior contact at the Cabinet Office that it was possible people might use the review to distance themselves from a now “toxic” Lex Greensill by conveniently blaming their decisions and actions on someone who couldn’t defend himself. His response was, sin emabargo, reassuring: “The whole thing needs to be done fairly to all involved – and that we make sure J, en particular, and his motivations are fully and properly represented.” I told him that, being “properly represented” meant having someone who was able to go through Jeremy’s papers and “prepare his position”. “I completely agree,” my contact said.

Desafortunadamente, when I was introduced by email later that month to Nigel Boardman, the man who had been asked to lead the review, it became clear that he held a different view. Boardman is a solicitor from the firm Slaughter and May and his appointment had generated substantial criticism. This was both because he’d previously led a review of the procurement of PPE during the early stages of the pandemic that many believed had whitewashed the actions of government ministers, and because he had multiple conflicts of interest, including having been a member of the Conservative party and being on the board of a department (Business, Estrategia energética e industrial) that had allowed Greensill Capital to access one of the government’s coronavirus loan schemes. Some also questioned why a solicitor had been appointed rather than a judge, who would be more professionally neutral in weighing the evidence.

I’d never met Nigel Boardman, so I hoped for the best. sin embargo, before I had a chance to engage with him, two senior Cabinet Office officials appeared before the public administration and constitutional affairs committee in parliament on 26 abril. During that session they were asked about Greensill’s time in government in 2012 and stated that they were “reasonably clear that Jeremy Heywood was seeking to bring Lex Greensill in to work in the Cabinet Office”. They then added that they were “alarmed” by this and had been unable to find a “contract” for Greensill – despite also admitting that an “appointment letter” setting out “conditions on his appointment”, covering things like the Official Secrets Act, confidentiality and using the business appointment rules, existed.

I contacted the Cabinet Office to say I was distressed by the comments made about Jeremy. In particular, given that a detailed appointment letter existed, I couldn’t understand why they’d said they were unsure how conflicts of interest were being managed. “That’s fair,” my contact replied, promising me that, when the Cabinet Office wrote to the committee on various points of follow-up, they would “include this correction”. Otra vez, I felt somewhat comforted by this, but when I was contacted by Boardman’s review team three days later, en 29 abril, I realised that these comments in parliament were only the start of a process that was being stacked against Jeremy. The team informed me that Boardman would only conduct formal interviews with those who had “a direct role” in the issues within the scope of the review. Esto, rather conveniently, excluded Jeremy, and Jeremy alone, from the process. I was also told that Boardman was happy to meet with me informally, but it might not be “possible or appropriate” to include any point I made in the review’s findings. They were also not prepared to share any materials with me “or any information about the content of the review, at any stage in the process”. I was deeply distressed by this proposed approach, which as well as being obviously unfair was also in complete contradiction to the assurances I’d been given. I therefore wrote back to Boardman the following day. My preference, I told him, was “to have access to papers and the report (if others do)", but if this wasn’t possible then someone needed “to review the report and provide input on [Jeremy’s] behalf or this work will be uniquely unfair on a dead man”.

This time Boardman personally sent me his uncompromising reply. There were no papers he could send me, él dijo. I tried again after this to reach out to my Cabinet Office contact, but this time he didn’t respond. Given that I had no other option, I therefore accepted Boardman’s offer of an informal meeting, which took place virtually on 5 Mayo.

In this I emphasised I did have knowledge that would be relevant to his review (por ejemplo, I was the executor of Jeremy’s will, was his biographer and had relevant papers) and asked again for Jeremy to be properly represented. Boardman, sin emabargo, seemed uninterested in what I had to say. He remained silent for most of the meeting and offered no follow-up.

En este punto, I felt like I’d hit a dead end. En 8 junio, Francis Maude and several senior ex-civil servants were interviewed by the public administration committee about their involvement in the Greensill affair. In their testimony they all – to greater or lesser degrees – tried to shift the blame for their own decisions on to Jeremy. The most egregious of these was Maude, who initially said he couldn’t recall authorising Greensill’s appointment to the efficiency and reform group, a unit he had personally established and overseen as the responsible minister. He then admitted he “might have agreed” to Greensill’s appointment, but if he had, it was only to avoid a “row” with Jeremy. It looked increasingly like Jeremy was being set up.

My anxiety increased further when, en 14 junio, a friend in the Cabinet Office contacted me to say they were “horrified about where [the Boardman review] is all going”, that “some people” were “rewriting history” and there was “lots of unfairness”. On the same day I was told that the Cabinet Office was still refusing to release Greensill’s appointment letters. This is when I decided I had to act: if no one else was willing to defend Jeremy, I would have to fight back against Boardman’s attempt to silence me and defend him myself. My first step was again to reach out to my contact in the Cabinet Office. This time my message was far more emotional. “Jeremy would have defended you or others if you were not here to defend yourself,” I told him “but no one is defending him. It’s horrible and distressing.” My emotion at last elicited a response. “I have already told Nigel that he must share papers with you,” my contact replied, “and he has agreed.”

En 17 June I received an email from Boardman’s team informing me again that he would only engage with those with “first-hand knowledge of the relevant events”. On the same day, after I made another appeal to my Cabinet Office contact, he arranged for me to be sent extracts of Boardman’s near-final report. When I read the material, I was appalled. My worst fears were justified: Boardman was uniquely targeting Jeremy while letting past and serving ministers and special advisers off as lightly as possible. The report was so biased that I found it hard to read. It became clear that, as well as being unpleasant (por ejemplo, Boardman stated baldly in his introduction that he hadn’t been able to speak to Jeremy, making it sound like Jeremy hadn’t bothered to show up rather than explaining that he’d passed away), most of Boardman’s conclusions were based on post-hoc, one-sided testimonies and not supported by contemporaneous documents.

I went through the extracts, highlighting examples and sent Boardman these comments. I received no response from either Boardman or his team, so on 22 June I wrote again. This time I tried to draw Boardman’s attention to the multiple precedents in the context of such an inquiry for how to treat people who had passed away. In particular I highlighted the approach that had been taken by Lord Dyson in his investigation into Martin Bashir’s Panorama interview with Princess Diana, and specifically how he’d treated Steve Hewlett, the late editor of the programme. During Dyson’s inquiry Hewlett’s widow had made detailed representations about the allegations relating to her husband, which Lord Dyson had considered carefully, and when unproven allegations were made against Hewlett, Dyson had dismissed them.

El viernes 25 junio, Boardman sent me another short, devastating email. In this he stated he had “not read” my representations and did “not propose to do so”. I barely slept that weekend. It was hard to accept that Jeremy had been let down so comprehensively by the institution to which he had dedicated his life. I decided I had no option left but to take the government to judicial review. I felt that I owed it to Jeremy to do whatever I could to make the government treat him with decency.

En 30 junio, a legal letter was sent to the Cabinet Office advising them of my decision. Fue, this letter stated, an essential requirement of any review that it should be procedurally fair, and this requirement of fairness applied even when someone was deceased. Dado este, Boardman’s repeated refusal to allow Jeremy any representation was unlawful. Nothing happened for several days after that. Entonces, en 6 mes de julio, I received another email from the review team: Boardman had changed his mind and decided to grant me a formal meeting. In advance of this, I would be allowed just 48 hours to access Jeremy’s papers – though there were 150 pages of these, and no one was allowed to help me. Fue, por supuesto, clear that Boardman was hurriedly ticking boxes to avoid being taken to court and was still intent on making it as hard as possible for me to represent Jeremy.

En 8 mes de julio, I was given temporary access to Jeremy’s documents. These were a revelation because, when I compared them to the extracts of the draft report I’d seen, it became apparent that Boardman was being highly selective in his use of evidence. Por ejemplo, the draft report had stated that Jeremy had brought Greensill into “the very heart of government without ministerial authority”. sin embargo, there was ample documentary evidence that Francis Maude, as the responsible minister, had approved the appointment and no evidence whatsoever of any sort of “row” between Maude and Jeremy over the decision.

One key piece of documentary evidence was a letter from one of Maude’s officials about Greensill’s appointment, which the official signed on 21 febrero 2012, and which stated that: “This arrangement has been agreed by both the Minister for the Cabinet Office (Francis Maude) and the Permanent Secretary for Cabinet Office [sic].” Given all of this, Maude’s denial of his involvement in Greensill’s appointment was shocking – as was Boardman’s biased conclusion.

After an intensive weekend of work, I met Boardman on the afternoon of Monday 12 mes de julio. When I walked in, I found myself facing Boardman, two members of his team and a Cabinet Office lawyer. After I’d sat down, Boardman smiled and started reading out his conclusions about Jeremy, pausing after each point. Each time he did, I responded, quoting the documents I’d seen that contradicted his views and highlighting the multiple papers he cited that hadn’t been disclosed to me. Each time I did this, Boardman smiled again and moved on to his next conclusion. When he reached the end of his list, Boardman said he had nothing more to say – but I did. I asked why he’d systematically excluded me from his review. Boardman said nothing in response to this, he just kept smiling. I then read out a list of his conflicts of interest (which took some time) and asked how they were being managed, but Boardman again remained silent. Two days after this meeting, the review team sent me two emails containing some of the documents they’d failed to disclose before the meeting because of “administrative oversight”. The following day they sent me a new set of extracts from the draft report, giving me two working days to respond. I opened these to find, unsurprisingly, that although some of the wording had changed, in substance the conclusions were the same as those I’d seen in June.

The draft selectively chose evidence to place as much blame as possible on Jeremy. I spent a frantic weekend preparing a detailed rebuttal of the draft findings. In this I said I was “horrified by the way in which these extracts have been drafted in order to reach a pre-ordained conclusion against my late husband and deeply distressed by the lack of accuracy and fairness”.

Cuando the report was published in an indecent rush on 22 July as parliament prepared to rise, and only a day after I’d submitted my comments, little of substance had changed. The Cabinet Office’s briefing predictably minimised the actions of both past and serving government ministers in the lobbying scandal while trying to focus on Jeremy’s role in appointing Greensill 10 años antes. The report stands as a masterclass in how to use evidence selectively to support a predetermined conclusion. I submitted a freedom of information request to the Cabinet Office asking it to declare Nigel Boardman’s conflicts of interest but, when it responded, all his conflicts had been redacted from the documents, as had any mitigating actions. In response to a follow-up FOI request, it responded to say that answering my question about Boardman’s conflicts of interest would be too expensive.

This whole experience taught me a lot about human nature. On the positive side, I was encouraged by the general derision with which the Boardman review was received when it was published and was touched that so many people came out in Jeremy’s defence. Alex Allan, who had been both Cameron’s and Boris Johnson’s independent adviser on ministerial standards, deplored Boardman’s patently unfair process; Gordon Brown emphasised the deeply flawed nature of Boardman’s conclusions.

On the negative side the Boardman review had clearly been a determined, cynical and coordinated attempt to distract attention from some real, current issues by trying to blame someone who is no longer with us. Appointing someone with clear conflicts of interest to try to pin blame on a dead man conveniently allowed others to distract attention from a row about ministerial lobbying. I hope that this government, and later governments, will now let Jeremy rest in peace. He gave his life to public service and died while still serving the prime minister of the day. While he would be the first to admit his own imperfections, he was a man of huge integrity, who deserves to be treated better both now and in the future by the institution and politicians he served with such dedication.

los comentarios están cerrados.