New crisis for Boris Johnson as ethics adviser resigns

Boris Johnson’s independent ethics adviser Christopher Geidt withdrew after disagreements over Partygate.

The shocking resignation pushes the prime minister back into crisis after last week he won a vote of confidence in his position among Conservative lawmakers by a narrower-than-expected margin of 211 votes to 148.

The pair were barred from initiating an inquiry into whether the prime minister had violated the ministerial code by rules stating that any such investigation must be approved by Johnson himself.

In a statement, Lord Geidt gave no explanation for his decision, saying only: “With regret, I feel it is right that I am resigning from my position as Independent Adviser to the Interests of Ministers.”

He is the second Johnson ethics adviser to resign, following the departure of Sir Alex Allan in November 2020 after the prime minister rejected his finding that Home Secretary Priti Patel had bullied officials. None of the previous PMs’ post holders felt compelled to resign.

The chairman of the Commons standards committee, Labor MP Chris Bryant, called on the prime minister to step down.

“Christopher Geidt is one of the most honorable men I have ever met,” said Bryant. “In the end, he was a decent man working for an indecent prime minister. He thought he could quietly bring about incremental change, but was repeatedly tricked by number 10. In honor, Johnson should resign.

“So far, Johnson has ruined Allegra Stratton’s career, tarnished Christopher Geidt’s reputation and let dozens of employees take the fall for his violation of the law. Conservatives must surely wake up one day?

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?

“However, he remains supported in office by a Conservative Party that is mired in contempt and utterly incapable of tackling the cost-of-living crisis facing the British people. 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?”

In a scathing public rebuke to the prime minister last month, Lord Geidt warned that Johnson risked putting the ministerial code in a “ridiculous” place for parties violating the lockdown in 10th place.

He said there were “legitimate” questions about whether Johnson had violated ministerial standards and made a thinly veiled threat to resign if the prime minister continued to insist there was no reason to respond.

His intervention then forced Johnson to release a detailed explanation of why he believed his fixed fine for violating Covid lockdown laws did not amount to a ministerial code violation.

In a preface to his delayed annual report on ministerial standards on May 31, the ethics adviser said Johnson had failed to heed advice repeatedly conveyed to number 10 that he should make a public statement about whether he had complied with the code.

Failure to do so would put him in the position of having to advise the prime minister to open an inquiry into himself and then step down when Johnson refused to do so – which would put the code “in a place of ridicule”, Lord Geidt said. .

But Johnson responded that Lord Geidt had not raised the issue directly with him and blamed the situation on a “failure of communication between our offices”.

Appearing before a panel of lawmakers on Tuesday, Lord Geidt hinted that he could have opened an inquiry into Johnson’s behavior had the powers been available to him at the time.

He told lawmakers: “It is reasonable to say that perhaps a fixed fine notice and the prime minister paying may have constituted breach of the comprehensive duty under the ministerial code to enforce the law.”

Speaking just a day before his eventual decision to step down, Lord Geidt repeatedly refused to say whether he had threatened to step down.

But he admitted he was an “asset of the prime minister” rather than enjoying full independence, telling lawmakers: “How can I defeat the impression that it’s a cozy and insufficiently independent relationship? Is very difficult. But I’m trying my best to work with what I have.”

After his appointment in the wake of the Patel bullying scandal, Lord Geidt was given new powers to propose investigations into possible violations of the code of conduct by ministers. His predecessors could only act at the request of the PM.

But he asked for new powers to launch investigations on his own initiative after Johnson was found to have given him incorrect information during his investigation of the Downing Street apartment renovation, which cleared the prime minister of wrongdoing.

A review of the paper extended Lord Geidt’s powers, but insisted he should consult with the prime minister before opening an investigation.

Liberal Democratic Party leader Wendy Chamberlain MP said: “When Boris Johnson’s two ethics advisers resigned, it’s obvious he’s the one who needs to go.

“This prime minister has constantly lied and broken the laws he wrote. It is clear as day that he also broke the ministerial code. For the good of Britain, the next resignation we should hear about is that of Boris Johnson.”

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