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Lord Geidt and Boris Johnson Dominic Lipinski/Justin Tallis/PA
lord geidt

Boris Johnson considered deliberately breaking ministerial code, resigning ethics adviser says

Christopher Geidt’s letter of resignation has been published.

LAST UPDATE | 16 Jun 2022

UK PRIME MINISTER Boris Johnson considered action risking a deliberate breach of his own ministerial code, Christopher Geidt said as he quit as ethics adviser over the “impossible and odious” position.

The ministerial interests adviser said in his resignation letter to the British leader that he had been only credibly clinging onto the role “by a very small margin” over Downing Street parties.

But Geidt said he was forced to quit when he was tasked with offering a view on the UK government’s “intention to consider measures which risk a deliberate and purposeful breach of the ministerial code”.

The UK Prime Minister’s response indicated that it was relating to advice on the Trade Remedies Authority, which may have conflicted with the UK’s obligations under the World Trade Organisation.

In the letter published today, Geidt wrote: “This request has placed me in an impossible and odious position.”

He said the idea that Johnson “might to any degree be in the business of deliberately breaching his own code is an affront”.

“A deliberate breach, or even an intention to do so, would be to suspend the provisions of the code to suit a political end. This would make a mockery not only of respect for the code but licence the suspension of its provisions in governing the conduct of Her Majesty’s ministers.

“I can have no part in this.”

Geidt became the second ministerial interests adviser to resign during the Prime Minister’s three years in office when a brief statement was published yesterday evening.

“With regret, I feel that it is right that I am resigning from my post as independent adviser on ministers’ interests,” the message on the Government website read.

A senior source in No 10 told the PA news agency Johnson was “surprised” by Geidt’s resignation.

“We are surprised, this is a mystery to the PM. Only on Monday he said he would like to stay on for another six months,” the source said.

A little over 24 hours earlier, Geidt declined to deny that he had previously considered quitting over Johnson’s response to being fined by police over partygate.

It was also reported that Geidt had threatened to quit last month after the publication of the Sue Gray report into lockdown breaches in Whitehall unless Johnson issued a public explanation for his conduct.

In response, the Prime Minister issued a letter to Geidt saying he believed any breach of Covid laws when he attended a gathering in the Cabinet room for his 56th birthday had been “unwitting”.

He insisted he was acting in “good faith” when he told the UK Parliament there had not been any parties.

On Tuesday, Geidt accepted it was “reasonable” to suggest Johnson may have breached the ministerial code by being handed a fixed-penalty notice by the Metropolitan Police.

However, he indicated to MPs he would not be launching an investigation into Johnson even though he has since gained greater powers to initiate his own inquiries.

He described himself as an “asset of the Prime Minister” rather than a “free-orbiting adviser”, and still required Johnson’s final consent before starting an investigation.

Responding to the development last night, former Cabinet secretary Andrew Turnbull has said Johnson is “not worthy” of office and suggested Tories should work to overthrow him.

The crossbench peer, who was the most senior civil servant between 2002-2005, told BBC Newsnight: “It’s going to be solved when enough of his backbenchers can summon up the courage to decide that he’s not a man of sufficient integrity that they want as their leader.

“The issue still remains that in the opinion of many people, myself included, he’s not worthy of the office.”

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said: “The Prime Minister has now driven both of his own hand-picked ethics advisers to resign in despair.

“The person who should be leaving No 10 tonight is Boris Johnson himself.”

The first of Johnson’s ethics advisers to quit was Alex Allan, who resigned in 2020 after the Prime Minister refused to accept his finding that Home Secretary Priti Patel had bullied civil servants.

Geidt lasted 14 months in the role, a period he described as “especially busy”.

He accepted the role in April last year, with the post having been vacant for five months after Allan’s resignation.

After a month in the job, Geidt cleared Johnson of breaching the rules over the lavish refurbishment of his Downing Street flat, after payments were made by Tory donor David Brownlow.

But the adviser said Johnson had acted “unwisely” by allowing the work to go ahead without “more rigorous regard” for how it was being funded.

In January, Johnson was forced to offer a “humble and sincere apology” to Geidt for not disclosing crucial messages with Brownlow.

Geidt expressed his “grave concern” over the incident that “shook his confidence” after the exchanges emerged in an Electoral Commission investigation.

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