Cameron caught on camera in 'corruption' gaffe with the queen
Published 11/05/2016 | 02:30
David Cameron has been caught on camera telling Queen Elizabeth that Nigeria and Afghanistan are "fantastically corrupt", hours before the two countries' leaders were due to arrive in the UK for an anti-corruption conference in London.
Downing Street sought to play down the risks such candid comments could pose to the summit, which Mr Cameron is hosting, and even hinted that the prime minister was aware his words might be recorded.
Speaking in conversation with the queen, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Speaker John Bercow and House of Commons leader Chris Grayling, at a Buckingham Palace event yesterday to mark the queen's 90th birthday, Mr Cameron was heard to say: "We've got some leaders of some fantastically corrupt countries coming to Britain...Nigeria and Afghanistan, possibly the two most corrupt countries in the world".
Following the comments, Archbishop Justin Welby noted that "this particular president is not corrupt...he's trying very hard", in what was thought to have been a reference to Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari.
President Buhari and Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani are two of only a handful of national leaders so far confirmed to be attending tomorrow's summit.
Mr Cameron's spokesperson yesterday sought to distinguish between the countries themselves, which are both ranked among the most corrupt in the world by Transparency International, and their current leaders.
"Both leaders have been invited to the summit because they are driving the fight against corruption in their countries," the spokesperson said.
Asked whether Mr Cameron had been aware his comments to the queen were being filmed, the spokesperson said: "There were multiple cameras in the room."
Afghanistan was ranked 167, ahead only of Somalia and North Korea, in Transparency International's 2015 corruption perception index. Nigeria is placed at 136.
President Buhari responded to the comments last night, saying that Mr Cameron "must have been referring to Nigeria's past notoriety".
President Buhari was elected last year on a promise to crackdown on corruption. His efforts have already led to the trial of the country's former security adviser Sambo Dasuki, after a government investigation alleged €1.6bn worth of government funds for the fight against terror group Boko Haram had gone missing.
In the video of the Buckingham Palace conversation, Mr Bercow goes on to ask whether the world leaders attending the anti-corruption summit will be travelling at their own expense.
"Yes," the prime minister responds, before adding: "Because it is an anti-corruption summit, everything has to be open so there are no closed door sessions, all in front of the press, so it could be quite interesting."
The queen did not respond to Mr Cameron's comments.
It is not the first time the Mr Cameron's candid comments have been overheard and broadcast widely.
In the aftermath of the Scottish independence referendum in 2014, the prime minister was heard saying the queen "purred down the line" when he informed her of the result.
The government had already faced criticism over its anti-corruption summit after it emerged that, with days to go, it had still not guaranteed the attendance of representatives from British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies that operate as offshore tax havens.
Places such as the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands were at the heart of the shadowy tax avoidance networks uncovered by the Panama Papers.
Mr Cameron's spokesperson could not confirm yesterday whether representatives of British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies would attend the summit, saying that full details about attendees would be available later today.