Saturday, June 25, 2022

New crisis for Boris Johnson as ethics adviser announced

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Boris Johnson’s independent ethics adviser Christopher Geidt has resigned after disagreements over Partygate.

The shock resignation plunges the prime minister back into crisis after he won a confidence vote in his position among Tory MPs last week by a narrower-than-expected margin of 211 votes to 148.

The peer was prevented from launching an inquiry into whether the Prime Minister had breached the Code of Ministers by rules that say any such inquiry must be authorized by Mr Johnson himself.

In a statement, Lord Geidt gave no explanation for his decision, saying only: “It is with regret that I see it as proper that I resign from my position as Independent Adviser to Ministers’ Interests.”

He is Mr Johnson’s second ethics adviser to step down after Sir Alex Allan left in November 2020 after the Prime Minister overruled his finding that Home Secretary Priti Patel bullied staff. No holder of the post under previous PMs has ever felt compelled to cancel.

The leader of the Commons Standards Committee, Labor MP Chris Bryant, called on the Prime Minister to resign.

“Christopher Geidt is one of the most honorable men I have ever met,” said Mr. Bryant. “In the end he was a decent man working for a naughty prime minister. He thought he could discreetly make incremental changes, but was repeatedly lied to by #10. In honor, Johnson should resign.

“So far, Johnson has ruined Allegra Stratton’s career, tarnished Christopher Geidt’s reputation and blamed dozens of employees for breaking the law. Tories have to wake up one day, don’t they?”

Labor Deputy Leader Angela Rayner said: “The Prime Minister has now urged his two hand-picked ethics advisers to desperately resign. If even they cannot defend his conduct in office, how can anyone believe he is fit to govern?

“Nonetheless, he remains in office backed by a Conservative Party that is mired in the dirt and utterly unable to deal with the cost of living crisis the British people are facing. The person who should be leaving No 10 tonight is Boris Johnson himself. How long will the country have to wait for Tory MPs to finally do the right thing?”

In a scathing public rebuke of the Prime Minister last month, Lord Geidt warned Mr Johnson risked placing the Ministers Code in a place of “ridicule” over lockdown-breaking parties, number 10.

He said there were “legitimate” questions about whether Mr Johnson had breached ministerial standards and veiledly threatened to resign if the Prime Minister continued to insist there was no case to answer.

His intervention then forced Mr Johnson to issue a detailed explanation as to why he did not believe his fixed fine for breaching the Covid lockdown laws was not a violation of the department’s code of conduct.

In a foreword to his May 31 belated annual report on ministerial standards, the ethics adviser said Mr Johnson had failed to heed advice repeatedly sent to No 10 that he should make a public statement on whether to comply with the code have held.

Otherwise he would be in a position to advise the Prime Minister to open an inquiry against himself and then resign when Mr Johnson refused – which would bring the code “to a place of ridicule”, said Lord Geidt.

But Mr Johnson replied that Lord Geidt had not raised the issue with him directly and blamed the situation on a “failure of communications between our offices”.

Appearing before a panel of MPs on Tuesday, Lord Geidt hinted that he might have opened an inquiry into Mr Johnson’s conduct had he had the powers at the time.

He told MPs: “It is reasonable to say that perhaps a fine imposed and the Prime Minister paying it may have failed in the overarching duty under the Ministerial Code to comply with the law.”

Just a day before his final decision to quit, Lord Geidt repeatedly refused to say whether he had threatened to resign.

But he admitted he was an “Prime Minister’s asset” rather than enjoying full independence, telling MPs: “How can I get over the impression that it’s a cozy, insufficiently independent relationship? It’s very hard. But I’m trying my best to work with what I have.”

Following his appointment in the wake of the Patel bullying scandal, Lord Geidt was given new powers to propose inquiries into possible breaches of the code of conduct by ministers. His predecessors could only act at the request of the Prime Minister.

However, he asked for new powers to launch inquiries of his own accord after it emerged Mr Johnson had given him false information during his inquiry into the refurbishment of the Downing Street flat that cleared the Prime Minister of wrongdoing.

A review of the role increased Lord Geidt’s powers but insisted he must consult with the Prime Minister before opening an inquiry.

Wendy Chamberlain, MP for the Liberal Democrats, said: “If both of Boris Johnson’s ethics advisers have resigned, it is obvious that he is the one who has to go.

“This Prime Minister lied constantly and broke the laws he wrote. It is as clear as day that he also broke the ministerial code. For the good of Britain, the next resignation we should hear about is Boris Johnson.”

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