David Cameron has blamed a spelling mistake for a text message in which he appeared to show advance knowledge of a Bank of England interest rate cut.
Ahead of two select committee hearings Mr Cameron’s text exchange with Tom Scholar, the treasury’s top civil servant, was published. It included a text which read: “Never quite understood how rate cuts help a pandemic.”
The next sentence in the message was redacted and MPs are now calling for it to be published amid questions over whether sensitive information was shared.
Asked about the exchange during the Treasury select committee hearing, Mr Cameron said: “I’ve been rather baffled by this text message because obviously rate cuts are a very appropriate thing to do at a time of difficulty.
“I think I’m a victim of spellcheck here – I think it was about a VAT cut… I think I was responding to something that was in the news.”
Mr Cameron’s message to Mr Scholar was sent on March 6 2020. The Bank of England announced an interest rate cut to help the economy during the COVID crisis five days later on March 11.
Officials are barred from disclosing market sensitive information and doing so is a very serious matter. Any trades made as a result could be investigated by the Financial Conduct Authority.
Labour MP Angela Eagle, who questioned Mr Cameron during the hearing, said the disclosure of such information, if it occurred, would be “very irregular”.
She told Sky News: “It was an eyebrow raising explanation; my spellcheck doesn’t behave like that, it doesn’t convert the phrase “interest rates” into “VAT”.
“The implication of Tom Scholar discussing interest rates with David Cameron might demonstrate that the permanent secretary had disclosed market sensitive information. For the permanent secretary of the Treasury to say that in a text to an ex-prime minister who is in in business would be very irregular.”
During the hearing Mr Cameron was repeatedly pressed about the close nature of his relationship with Mr Scholar. The two men worked closely together when Mr Cameron was in government.
The former prime minister said the pair met twice during a five-year period and that it was not unusual for him to sign off his text with “Love DC” to Mr Scholar. He does not use such familiar language in any of the other messages made public.
Addressing the point, Mr Cameron said: “Anyone I know even at all well I tend to sign off text messages with ‘love DC’.
“I don’t know why, I just do – my children tell me you don’t need to sign off text messages at all and it’s very old fashioned and odd to do so.
“But, anyway, that’s what I do.”
The Treasury, Cabinet Office and Financial Conduct Authority have been approached for comment.