Tuesday, May 18, 2021

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Tony Blair: Former prime minister says lobbying system is ‘pretty clean’

Tony Blair has told Sky News that issues around lobbying should be looked at "thoroughly", but "by and large" the British system is "pretty clean".

The former prime minister said a set of rules should be established "which make sense".

Mr Blair, who was in Downing Street from 1997 to 2007, added that there has "probably been quite a lot of change" in how lobbying is conducted since he was in office.

He said he did not have a mobile phone during his spell in Number 10, "so the issues of texting didn’t arise, obviously it’s a different world today".

There has been a renewed focus on the issue of lobbying after a series of revelations about former prime minister David Cameron and Greensill Capital, which has dragged in former and current government ministers and officials as well.

Mr Cameron approached serving ministers and officials about the involvement of the firm in government-backed financial support schemes in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, lobbying that included sending text messages to Chancellor Rishi Sunak.

Mr Cameron said he broke "no codes of conduct and no government rules", but acknowledged: "As a former prime minister, I accept that communications with the government need to be done through only the most formal of channels, so there can be no room for misinterpretation."

Boris Johnson has asked top lawyer Nigel Boardman to look into the activities and said he will be given "carte blanche to ask anybody whatever he needs".

But Labour is pushing for a wider inquiry into lobbying.

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Speaking about lobbying generally, Mr Blair said there was "nothing wrong" with it per se and it had become a "loaded" term.

"People in government, of course they should receive information," he said.

"What’s necessary is that the decision making process is done in an objective way. By and large in our system I think it is.

"We’ve got to be careful of overstating the problems in our own system.

"By and large the British system is a pretty clean system."

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