Lord Geidt insists he quit over 'important issue of principle' and steel tariffs were 'distraction'

17 June 2022, 01:03 | Updated: 17 June 2022, 20:02

Boris Johnson has been criticised after it was suggested he may axe the role of ethics adviser.
Boris Johnson has been criticised after it was suggested he may axe the role of ethics adviser. Picture: Alamy

By Emma Soteriou

Boris Johnson's former ethics adviser Lord Geidt has said he quit the post on "an important issue of principle".

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Lord Geidt announced his resignation in a statement on Wednesday evening, following controversy over whether the Prime Minister broke the ministerial code.

Despite believing "by a very small margin" that it was possible to stay on in the role after Partygate, a separate issue relating steel import tariffs was the final straw for Lord Geidt, according to the resignation letter.

However, in a follow-up letter clarifying his position on Friday, he said the "cautious language" in his letter of resignation may have led to the conclusion he was standing down over the "narrow technical consideration of steel tariff".

He said this was a "distraction" and that his real concern was over the Government's "widely publicised openness" to breaking international law.

"I could not be a party to advising on any potential law-breaking," he said in the letter obtained by Sky News.

Writing to William Wragg, the chairman of the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, Lord Geidt pointed to comments by the former cabinet secretary Lord Butler, who said the real issue was that he was being asked to give "advanced cover" to the Prime Minister for breaking international law.

"This represents my position precisely. Emphasis on the steel tariffs question is a distraction," Lord Geidt said.

"It was simply one example of what might yet constitute deliberate breaches by the the United Kingdom of its obligations under international law, given the Government's widely publicised openness to this."

Read more: Downing Street shocked as Boris's ethics adviser Lord Geidt resigns after Partygate row

Read more: Marr: What Lord Geidt thought he was doing advising Boris on ethics 'anyone's guess'

It comes after Boris Johnson caused fury among politicians with plans to axe the role of ethics adviser after Lord Geidt stepped down.

An official spokesman for the PM said that he would review the role and decide if it needed to be overhauled following the shock decision.

The job could instead be transferred to a new body if a direct replacement is not chosen.

Asked whether a new adviser was being sought, the spokesman noted a number of issues raised by Lord Geidt and said the Prime Minister wants to "carefully consider those and reflect on them before taking a decision on how best to fulfil that commitment about ensuring rigorous oversight and scrutiny of ministerial interests".

Pressed if Lord Geidt will necessarily be replaced, the spokesman said: "We haven't made a final decision on how best to carry out that function, whether it relates to a specific individual or not.

"He will carefully consider that before setting out the next steps."

Politicians shared their outrage over the possible removal of the role on Thursday, with some even among the Prime Minister's own party criticising the move.

Tory MP Richard Graham told the Independent that plans to abandon the position needed to be "dropped fairly fast".

"He should go out and find someone credible to replace him as soon as possible,” he said.

"It would be a mistake to abolish the post."

The Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL) also issued a warning not to go ahead with plans.

Chairman Lord Evans said it would be "a backwards step" which would "risk further damage to public perceptions of standards".

However, in his letter to Lord Geidt, Mr Johnson suggested that the "increasingly public role" of the ethics adviser meant it would be a "burden" for whoever agreed to take it up.

Labour's Angela Rayner said Mr Johnson had "debased standards and rigged the rules for far too long", demanding he appoint a new watchdog.

The deputy leader said: "Lord Geidt walked out because of the odious behaviour of Boris Johnson's Downing Street.

"This Prime Minister has, in his own adviser's words, made a mockery of the Ministerial Code.

"He has now followed both his predecessor and the anti-corruption tsar out of the door in disgust.

"There are now no ethics left in this Downing Street regime propped up in office by a Conservative Party mired in sleaze and totally unable to tackle the cost-of-living crisis facing the British people.

"The Government must not only appoint a new watchdog but back Labour's plan to restore standards. This Prime Minister has debased standards and rigged the rules for far too long.

"It is time for the Conservatives to do the right thing and remove him from office."

Meanwhile, Lib Dems leader Sir Ed Davey accused Mr Johnson of having "no ethics".

He tweeted: "Boris Johnson has no ethics, so not surprising he wants to scrap his ethics adviser."