Boris accused of 'watering down' ministerial code and 'saving his own skin'

27 May 2022, 16:52

Angela Rayner hit out at Boris Johnson over changes to the code
Angela Rayner hit out at Boris Johnson over changes to the code. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

Boris Johnson has been criticised for "watering down" the ministerial code and stopping ministers having to quit if they breached it.

The code, which sets standards for how Government ministers should behave and carry out their jobs, has been changed to allow the Prime Minister to deal out lesser punishments like a public apology instead of forcing them to resign.

Labour said Mr Johnson should be resigning himself after the Sue Gray report into Partygate but said he was instead "watering down" the code.

The updated code says lesser sanctions ordered by the Prime Minister in place of resignations include "some form of public apology, remedial action or removal of ministerial salary for a period".

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Previously, it was expected that ministers would walk if they were found to have breached the code.

A Government statement said it was "disproportionate" to expect ministers to have to go for "minor" violations.

Meanwhile, Mr Johnson has allowed his independent ethics adviser on the code, Lord Geidt, to try and launch his investigations on his own initiative – but he will still need the Prime Minister's consent before starting it.

Boris Johnson was accused of trying to save his own skin
Boris Johnson was accused of trying to save his own skin. Picture: Alamy

The Government statement went on: "Reflecting the Prime Minister's accountability for the conduct of the executive, it is important that a role is retained for the Prime Minister in decisions about investigations."

Mr Johnson is facing an investigation by Parliament's privileges committee over whether he misled Parliament about Partygate, though the code continues to say knowingly misleading the Commons is a resignation matter.

The changes follow the publication of senior civil servant Sue Gray's damning report about leadership in Government over lockdown parties in Downing Street, which again left Mr Johnson fighting to cling on to the job.

Labour said Mr Johnson had removed all references to "integrity, objectivity, accountability, transparency, honesty and leadership in the public interest" from his foreword to the code to "save his own skin".

Deputy leader Angela Rayner said: "This Prime Minister is downgrading and debasing the principles of public life before our very eyes.

"In a week when Boris Johnson's lies to Parliament about industrial rule-breaking at the heart of Government were finally exposed, he should be tendering his resignation but is instead watering down the rules to save his own skin.

"Once again, Boris Johnson has demonstrated he is not serious about his pledge to address the scandal and sleaze engulfing his Government or the frequent and flagrant breaches of standards and rule-breaking that have taken place on his watch."

Liberal Democrat chief whip Wendy Chamberlain said: "This is an appalling attempt by Boris Johnson to rig the rules to get himself off the hook.

"The Prime Minister shouldn't be allowed to decide on his own punishment - with zero accountability. This is making him judge and jury in his own case.

"If the Privileges Committee finds Boris Johnson lied to Parliament, surely Conservative MPs will have no choice but to sack him."