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His contacts and experience on the world stage can’t be questioned. But will David Cameron now get tough after years cosying up to Beijing… and will his money-making ventures come back to haunt him? GUY ADAMS on ex-PM’s return to the corridors of power


Perhaps the most critical dilemma facing new Foreign Secretary David Cameron is how to deal with China, the occasionally-genocidal Communist superpower whose growing economic might and diplomatic heft represents an existential threat to Western democracy.

Rishi Sunak last year declared the so-called ‘golden era’ of relations between London and Beijing over, describing those who believe its government is capable of reform as ‘naïve’.

His predecessor Liz Truss meanwhile described the country as a ‘threat’. Cameron has, for his part, been playing a very different tune.

In fact, he’s devoted much of his post-Downing Street career to cosying up to this despotic regime… in exchange for cold, hard cash.

Only last month, our former prime minister could be found on a paid speaking tour of the Middle East, attempting to drum up investment in Colombo Port City, a highly controversial Sri Lankan infrastructure project endorsed by the Chinese government.

Perhaps the most critical dilemma facing new Foreign Secretary David Cameron is how to deal with China, the occasionally-genocidal Communist superpower whose growing economic might and diplomatic heft represents an existential threat to Western democracy

Perhaps the most critical dilemma facing new Foreign Secretary David Cameron is how to deal with China, the occasionally-genocidal Communist superpower whose growing economic might and diplomatic heft represents an existential threat to Western democracy

David Cameron drinking a pint with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a visit to the UK in 2015

David Cameron drinking a pint with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a visit to the UK in 2015

In the post-Blair era, the spectacle of former prime ministers enriching themselves by cosying up to ageing autocrats they originally met during their time in Downing Street has of course become depressingly familiar (pictured: Xi Jinping and David Cameron in 2015)

In the post-Blair era, the spectacle of former prime ministers enriching themselves by cosying up to ageing autocrats they originally met during their time in Downing Street has of course become depressingly familiar (pictured: Xi Jinping and David Cameron in 2015)

Footage of Cameron’s speech to a conference in Abu Dhabi showed him waxing lyrical about the building project, which forms part of president Xi Jinping‘s ‘Belt and Road’ initiative to extend Beijing’s influence over the developing world. Parroting a line that might have been taken from the Chinese government’s propaganda manual, he told delegates to ignore fears about the port city’s Communist backers.

‘The fact is, it is owned by Sri Lanka. It will be governed by rules made by Sri Lankans. Yes, the Chinese have invested and the port reclamation was absolutely essential, but it’s now for others to invest alongside that and try to make a success of this project.’

Back in January, meanwhile, he had toured the Colombo development, during what Beijing’s state TV networks dubbed a ‘personal’ visit. 

The tour also saw him hold talks with Sri Lanka’s president Ranil Wickremesinghe, a somewhat rackety ally of Xi Jinping, who was recently criticised by Amnesty International for orchestrating ‘repression, intimidation and reprisals’ against political opponents.

During his seven years out of government, Cameron also made several business trips to mainland China in an effort to set up a ‘China-UK investment fund’ that aimed to raise £1billion from private investors to funnel into collaborations between the two countries.

One saw him headline an event called the ‘Shanghai International Ball and Leaders Forum’, at which wealthy locals were encouraged to pay 109,800 yuan [£12,500] for tickets that would allow them to meet the former British PM and pose for a joint ‘selfie’. During the same tour, in 2018, Cameron actually got to socialise with the aforementioned Communist Party boss, who he once hosted at a Buckinghamshire pub during a state visit.

‘Excellent meeting & enjoyable dinner with President Xi Jinping in Beijing, to talk about the ‘Golden Era’ in UK-China relations & plans for the new UK-China Fund,’ he tweeted.

In the post-Blair era, the spectacle of former prime ministers enriching themselves by cosying up to ageing autocrats they originally met during their time in Downing Street has of course become depressingly familiar.

Yet what makes David Cameron unique is that he now intends to return to public service. What’s more, his new role, as Foreign Secretary, supposedly requires him to take a tough line against the Chinese government he’s spent years doing lucrative business with.

Some might call that a gargantuan conflict of interest. The truth, however, is that Cameron’s somewhat vulgar commercial foray into China is by no means the most unedifying business venture he’s pursued since leaving office.

Yet what makes David Cameron unique is that he now intends to return to public service

Yet what makes David Cameron unique is that he now intends to return to public service

What's more, his new role, as Foreign Secretary, supposedly requires him to take a tough line against the Chinese government he's spent years doing lucrative business with

What’s more, his new role, as Foreign Secretary, supposedly requires him to take a tough line against the Chinese government he’s spent years doing lucrative business with

That would instead be his disastrous relationship with Lex Greensill, a disgraced Australian financier whose eponymous firm Greensill Capital collapsed in 2021, leaving UK taxpayers on the hook for tens of millions of pounds in loans that the Government had guaranteed.

It later emerged that Cameron had personally lobbied old contacts in the civil service, Bank of England and even Downing Street in an effort to advance the interests of the company, in which he had an equity stake that was – at the height of its fortunes – reported to be worth around £7million.

At one point, having sent officials at the Treasury and No 10 numerous emails from his personal account, he bombarded then Chancellor Rishi Sunak with a string of text messages. On a single day, during the lobbying campaign, his charm offensive consisted of no fewer than 19 calls, texts and emails to public officials he once worked with in government.

That was, as I wrote at the time, a staggering act of hypocrisy given that when Cameron was in office he made a holier-than-thou proclamation that political lobbying was ‘the next big scandal waiting to happen’.

On another occasion, Cameron’s work for Greensill involved bowing and scraping before King Salman, the absolute ruler of Saudi Arabia, at a 2019 conference known as ‘Davos in the Desert’. The event, an investment summit-cum-PR exercise for the oil-rich Islamic theocracy (which had recently murdered Jamal Khashoggi), saw him pose for publicity photographs in a tent.

Their intended purpose was to help rehabilitate the Middle Eastern dictatorship, where dissidents are tortured, thieves get their hands chopped off, women are chattels and adultery is punishable by stoning to death.

Now, let us not forget, David Cameron is supposed to be representing British interests in the region where he once genuflected so questionably.

The unfortunate truth, however, is that aside from the £800,000 he secured for his memoirs (at least £25,000 of which was spent on the shepherd’s hut where he wrote them) Cameron has taken precious few employment opportunities that now pass the smell test. 

Like most former PMs, he’s supplemented his official allowance of around £115,000 a year by taking on occasional speaking engagements (a booking agent optimistically dubs him ‘one of the most prominent global influencers of the early 21st century’) and there has been a relatively uncontentious three-week gig lecturing students at New York University in Abu Dhabi on ‘practising politics and government in the age of disruption’.

Now, let us not forget, David Cameron is supposed to be representing British interests in the region where he once genuflected so questionably

Now, let us not forget, David Cameron is supposed to be representing British interests in the region where he once genuflected so questionably

Cameron's relationship with China was meanwhile subjected to awkward scrutiny in July this year, when Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee published a report concluding that his aforementioned chairmanship of the UK-China investment fund could have been 'in some part engineered by the Chinese state to lend credibility to Chinese investment' in the UK

Cameron’s relationship with China was meanwhile subjected to awkward scrutiny in July this year, when Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee published a report concluding that his aforementioned chairmanship of the UK-China investment fund could have been ‘in some part engineered by the Chinese state to lend credibility to Chinese investment’ in the UK

Cameron has also whacked £100,000 into wife Samantha’s well-regarded clothing firm, which sells ‘elegant and effortlessly chic’ dresses for between £350 and £490.

Yet the rest of his lifestyle – which takes in homes in Notting Hill and the Cotswolds, and a holiday retreat in the fashionable Cornish enclave of Daymer Bay between Rock and Polzeath – plus a ruinously expensive game-shooting habit, has been financed via jobs with companies tinged by scandal.

In 2019, for example, he decided to join the advisory board for Afiniti, a firm that makes software for call centres and boasted a baffling array of celebrity employees, from Princess Beatrice and the former England rugby player Will Greenwood to Prince Harry’s old friend Tom ‘Skippy’ Inskip.

Like many of his fellow staffers, most of whom were hired by the company’s high-profile founder Zia Chishti, Cameron had no obvious expertise in either the tech or telecoms industry.

Instead, he appears to have been hired entirely for his ability to network. In return, he was paid a retainer and received share options in the firm, domiciled in the tax haven of Bermuda, that at one point were worth a reported £5million. Again, the venture would end in tears, however.

In 2021, a 27-year-old former employee named Tatiana Spottiswoode told the US Congress that Chishti, who was then 50, had sexually harassed and assaulted her during an 18-month period she’d worked at the firm.

During a work meeting in Dubai, Cameron’s paymaster had ‘put his hand inside my pants and grabbed my butt in front of co-workers’, she alleged.

On a work trip to Brazil in 2017, when she was 23, Spottiswoode testified that she had sex with Chishti, fearing for her job, and was left with bruises around her neck, a bump on her head and symptoms of concussion caused by his beating.

Chishti, who denied the claims, was nonetheless forced to stand down, and a report by an independent arbitrator awarded Spottiswoode $5million.

Cameron resigned from the firm’s board ‘with immediate effect’ when the affair became public, stressing that the alleged events took place before he started his job and saying he did not know about the incident until it was made public.

In his first broadcast interview as Foreign Secretary, Cameron was asked why, given his questionable post-Downing Street career, voters should trust him

In his first broadcast interview as Foreign Secretary, Cameron was asked why, given his questionable post-Downing Street career, voters should trust him

He said: 'As far as I'm concerned, that was all dealt with and in the past. And I now have one job as Britain's Foreign Secretary as part of Rishi Sunak's team'

He said: ‘As far as I’m concerned, that was all dealt with and in the past. And I now have one job as Britain’s Foreign Secretary as part of Rishi Sunak’s team’ 

Whether that line can hold, amid the growing controversy over his surprise appointment, remains to be seen

Whether that line can hold, amid the growing controversy over his surprise appointment, remains to be seen

August 2021, meanwhile, saw another unedifying story break involving Cameron’s work for Illumina, a US biotech firm.

It emerged that, in April 2019, he had written to then health secretary Matt Hancock in an effort to persuade him to attend a conference with the company’s boss at the Four Seasons Hotel in Hampshire.

‘I understand Jay [Flatley, then executive chairman of Illumina] has sent this direct to your office, but I wanted to i) ensure that you had seen it personally; and ii) strongly endorse their invitation to this significant conference,’ Cameron wrote.

Hancock duly went to the event, and the following week, Illumina secured a £123million genetic-sequencing contract.

Meanwhile, in July 2021, the OpenDemocracy news website reported that Cameron had met Nadhim Zahawi, the former vaccines minister, in March that year before the company was granted contracts worth up to £870,000 by Public Health England.

There followed a parliamentary inquiry, in which Harry Rich, the registrar, cleared Cameron of wrongdoing, concluding that his work constituted ‘registrable lobbying’ and an ‘incidental exemption’ applied.

An MPs’ inquiry into the Greensill affair produced a similar outcome, with parliamentarians in July 2021 finding that, although Cameron had erred by the ‘use of less formal means to lobby Government’ and shown ‘a significant lack of judgment’, no rules were broken.

Cameron’s relationship with China was meanwhile subjected to awkward scrutiny in July this year, when Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee published a report concluding that his aforementioned chairmanship of the UK-China investment fund could have been ‘in some part engineered by the Chinese state to lend credibility to Chinese investment’ in the UK.

In his first broadcast interview as Foreign Secretary, Cameron was asked why, given his questionable post-Downing Street career, voters should trust him.

‘As far as I’m concerned, that was all dealt with and in the past,’ he responded. ‘And I now have one job as Britain’s Foreign Secretary as part of Rishi Sunak’s team.’

Whether that line can hold, amid the growing controversy over his surprise appointment, remains to be seen.



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