PM's ethics chief quit after being put in 'odious' position on ministerial code

16 June 2022, 11:44 | Updated: 16 June 2022, 12:56

Lord Geidt resigned after being put in an ‘odious position’ by the prime minister, according to his resignation letter
Lord Geidt resigned after being put in an ‘odious position’ by the prime minister, according to his resignation letter. Picture: Alamy

By Asher McShane

Boris Johnson’s former ethics adviser Lord Geidt resigned after being put in an 'odious position' by the prime minister over measures that would have been a 'deliberate' breach of the ministerial code.

Lord Geidt’s resignation letter was published in full today, revealing he quit because of the government's "intention to consider measures which risk a deliberate and purposeful breach of the ministerial code".

Lord Geidt said he "can have no part in this".

"The idea that the Prime Minister might to any degree be in the business of deliberately breaching his own code is an affront," the letter states.

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Lord Geidt said he only narrowly believed he could continue in the role after the partygate scandal but that he could not continue after a new request was made of him.

He wrote to the Prime Minister: "This week, however, I was tasked to offer a view about the Government's intention to consider measures which risk a deliberate and purposeful breach of the ministerial code.

"This request has placed me in an impossible and odious position."

It has not been confirmed what the request was, but it appears to relate to potential trade disputes because Mr Johnson referenced the Trade Remedies Authority (TRA) in his response.

The TRA is the body set up to protect UK industries from unfair practices or unexpected surges in imports.

Lord Geidt said the idea that the Prime Minister "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," he said.

"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."

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Mr Johnson said the resignation ‘came as a surprise.’

The PM wrote in reply: "You say that you were put in an impossible position regarding my seeking your advice on potential future decisions related to the Trade Remedies Authority.

"My intention was to seek your advice on the national interest in protecting a crucial industry, which is protected in other European countries and would suffer material harm if we do not continue to apply such tariffs.

"We have discussed the burdens placed on you by this increasingly public role, and the pressures that would be felt by anyone in your position.

"On behalf of the Government, I would like to renew my thanks for all your work."

Downing Street said Boris Johnson's request to Lord Geidt centred on a "critical national industry" that is at risk of "material harm" without action.

Asked if the request centred on Chinese steel tariffs, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said "I can't get into that", having cited "commercial sensitivity" of the matter.

"No decisions have been taken with regards to this specific issue at this point," the spokesman said.

"The fully independent Trade Remedies Authority has provided advice to ministers which found that a critical national industry, and obviously I can't be more specific, is at risk of material harm if the Government does not take action, affecting businesses and livelihoods.

"So it's of course right the Prime Minister would consider how best to address that issue."

Lord Geidt's letter in full
Lord Geidt's letter in full. Picture: Downing Street
Lord Geidt's letter in full
Lord Geidt's letter in full. Picture: Downing Street

Lord Geidt is the second ethics adviser to resign in the last 18 months, something Labour said was a "badge of shame" for the government.

"To lose one ethics adviser was really an embarrassment but to lose two in two years, just days after the Prime Minister's own anti-corruption tsar walked out on him, well, it is becoming a bit of a pattern," said Labour MP Fleur Anderson.

"It is a pattern of degrading the principles of our democracy.

"The Prime Minister has now driven out both of his hand-picked ethics advisers to resign in despair in two years, it is a badge of shame for this Government."

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Former minister Dr Andrew Murrison said Lord Geidt's departure is "greatly to be regretted".

"Lord Geidt is a public servant of superb, unequal reputation, upmost integrity, and his departure is greatly to be regretted," he told the House of Commons.

Liberal Democrat MP Wendy Chamberlain, meanwhile, called for Parliament to have a role in appointing the next ethics advisor.