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Prime Minister’s Ethics Adviser Quits in Big Blow to No.10

Boris Johnosn’s ethics adviser has quit only a day after his statement to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee that there was a “legitimate question” over whether Boris Johnson had broken the ministerial code over Partygate.

In a very brief statement, Lord Geidt did not give a reason for his decision, but insisted that “it is right”. Lord Geidt took up the role in April 2021 after his predecessor Sir Alex Allan quit in 2020 after the Prime Minister overruled him over a report into alleged bullying by Home Secretary Priti Patel. The reasons for his resignation are not clear, as the resignation letter itself has not yet been published. Labour MP Chris Bryant who chairs the Commons’ Committee on Standards and Privileges called for the letter to be published, saying “I hope the Cabinet Office will publish that letter today”.

Labour Deputy leader Angela Rayner added that “The prime minister has now driven both of his own handpicked ethics advisers to resign in despair. If even they can’t defend his conduct in office, how can anyone believe he is fit to govern?”

Liberal Democrat chief whip Wendy Chamberlain said: “When both of Boris Johnson’s own ethics advisers have quit, it is obvious that he is the one who needs to go.”

former ethics adviser alex allan
Former Ethics Adviser Sir Alex Allan quit in 2020

Why did Ethics Adviser Quit?

The Government has said that it was “surprised” by the decision, adding that “only on Monday Lord Geidt asked if he could stay on for six months”. The spokesperson gave no reason for the resignation but said that Lord Geidt had been asked “to provide advice on a commercially sensitive matter in the national interest, which has previously had cross-party support. No decision had been taken pending that advice.” It was not clarified what these comments referred to.

Just last month, Lord Geidt had said that it was a legitimate question to ask if Boris Johnson had breached the ministerial code by breaking Covid laws. However, the Prime Minister hadn’t sought an investigation from Lord Geidt into whether he had done so, and was himself of the view that he had not.

On this, he commented: “I have attempted to avoid the independent adviser offering advice to a prime minister about a prime minister’s obligations under his own ministerial code. If a prime minister’s judgement is that there is nothing to investigate or no case to answer, he would be bound to reject any such advice, thus forcing the resignation of the independent adviser. Such a circular process could only risk placing the ministerial code in a place of ridicule.”

In the same report, Lord Geidt also expressed frustrations with the terms of the position of ethics adviser, writing that: “the prevailing arrangements still remained insufficiently independent to be able to command the confidence of the public.

Final Thought

Certainly in the wake of Partygate, and as we approach the inquiry by the Committee on Standards and Privileges, this resignation does not reflect well on the prime minister. As further details are revealed in the coming days, the extent of the damage may become clearer.

Former cabinet secretary Lord Turnbull, however, said of the Prime Minister that: “the pattern of behaviour is that anyone who has the power to criticise, obstruct or force him to change, he will try to reduce their power, suborn them or in the last resort wave them aside.”

While Partygate has not been explicitly referenced as a reason for Lord Geidt’s departure, it would be hard to argue that they are completely disconnected. It was reported last month that Lord Geidt had threatened to quit after the publication of the Sue Gray report was published unless Mr Johnson issued a public explanation for his conduct.

How this resignation is received by the Tory backbenches will be the key barometer of what this means for the prime minister and his future.

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