Boris Johnson’s ethics adviser resigned a day after telling lawmakers it was “reasonable” to suggest the prime minister broke the ministerial code by violating lockdown laws.
Lord Geidt became the second ministerial interests adviser to resign during the prime minister’s three years in office, when a brief statement was published on Wednesday night.
“With regret, I feel that it is right that I resign from my position as an independent adviser for the interests of the ministers”, reads the message on the Government’s website.
No reason was given for his shocking departure, and a senior source at Number 10 told the PA news agency that Johnson was “surprised” by Lord Geidt’s resignation, adding: “This is a mystery to the prime minister.”
The Labor Party renewed its calls for Johnson to resign, accusing him of having “led his own handpicked ethics advisers to resign in desperation”.
Just over 24 hours earlier, the benchmate refused to deny that he had ever considered quitting because of Johnson’s response to being fined by police over the party gate.
Lord Geidt told the Commons Committee on Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs that he felt “frustration” and that the option of resignation was always “on the agenda”.
“Dismissal is one of the most forceful tools, but few, available to the counselor. I’m glad my frustrations were addressed the way they were,” he said.
But after Lord Geidt took what he described as a “last resort” that “sends a critical signal into the public domain”, William Wragg, the Conservative MP who chairs the committee, praised him as “a person of great integrity, motivated by the highest ideals of public service.
“For the prime minister to lose an adviser on the interests of ministers can be considered a disgrace. Losing two feels like carelessness,” Johnson’s critic said.
Downing Street hinted at a recent request for Lord Geidt to advise on an undisclosed “commercially sensitive matter” as behind the resignation.
“This week, the independent adviser was asked to provide advice on a commercially sensitive matter of national interest, which had previously been supported by all parties. No decision has been taken pending this council,” a government spokeswoman said.
“While we are disappointed, we thank Lord Geidt for his public service. We will appoint a new advisor in due course.”
Lord Geidt was reported to have threatened to leave last month following the publication of Sue Gray’s report on lockdown violations in Whitehall unless Johnson issues a public explanation for his conduct.
In response, the prime minister issued a letter to Lord Geidt saying he believed any violation of Covid laws when he attended a Cabinet room meeting for his 56th birthday had been “involuntary”.
He insisted he was acting in “good faith” when he told parliament there were no parties.
On Tuesday, Lord Geidt, the Queen’s former private secretary, accepted that it was “reasonable” to suggest that the prime minister may have violated the ministerial code by receiving a fixed fine notice from the Metropolitan Police.
However, he indicated to lawmakers that he would not launch an investigation into Johnson, although he has since gained more powers to launch his own investigations.
He described himself as an “asset of the prime minister” rather than a “free-orbit adviser”, and even required Johnson’s final consent before launching an investigation.
Deputy Labor Leader Angela Rayner said: “The prime minister has now driven his two handpicked ethics advisers to resign in desperation. If even they cannot defend their conduct in office, how can anyone believe that he is fit to govern?
“The person who should leave number 10 tonight is Boris Johnson himself. How long does the country have to wait before Conservative lawmakers finally do the right thing?”
Chris Bryant, the Labor MP who chairs the Commons Standards Committee, praised Lord Geidt as “one of the most honorable men I have ever known”.
“He thought he could quietly bring about incremental change, but was repeatedly tricked by number 10. In honor, Johnson should step down,” Bryant added.
Source number 10 suggested that Lord Geidt has indicated he would like to stay in the role until the end of the year at least.
“We are surprised, this is a mystery for the PM. It wasn’t until Monday that he said he’d like to stay for another six months,” the source said.
The first of Johnson’s ethics advisers to resign was Sir Alex Allan, who resigned in 2020 after the prime minister refused to accept his finding that Home Secretary Priti Patel had bullied public officials.
Lord Geidt lasted 14 months in the role, a period he described as “especially busy”.
He accepted the post in April of last year, with the post vacant for five months following Sir Alex’s resignation.
After a month in office, Lord Geidt cleared Johnson of violating rules on the lavish renovation of his Downing Street apartment after payments were made by conservative donor Lord Brownlow.
But the adviser said Johnson acted “imprudently” in allowing the work to proceed without “closer consideration” of how it was being funded.
In January, the prime minister was forced to offer a “humble and sincere apology” to Lord Geidt for failing to deliver crucial messages with Lord Brownlow.
Lord Geidt expressed his “grave concern” over the incident that “shattered his confidence” after the exchanges surfaced in an Election Commission investigation.