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Boris Johnson's Ethics Adviser Quit After Being Put In “Impossible and Odious" Position Over Breaking Ministerial Code


4 min read

Lord Geidt has claimed he was forced to resign after being put in an "impossible and odious position" after being asked to consider a “deliberate and purposeful breach” of the ministerial code.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has insisted that he was seeking advice on the matter “before any decision was taken” to ensure he acted in accordance with the ministerial code, and said Lord Geidt’s letter of resignation had come as a “surprise”.

Lord Geidt announced his resignation on Wednesday in a short statement on the government's website, in which he said he was departing his role "with regret".

The peer had expressed concerns in recent weeks about Johnson’s opinion that he had not broken the ministerial code due to being handed a fixed penalty notice by the Metropolitan Police.

In his resignation letter to the Prime Minister, Lord Geidt said he had initially believed he was able to “credibly” continue in his role despite these concerns.

“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,” he said.

“This request has placed me in an impossible and odious position. My informal response on Monday was that you and any other minister should justify openly your position vis-à-vis the code in such circumstances. 

He continued it was an “affront” that any Prime Minister would consider “deliberately breaching his own code” to any degree.

“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."

Geidt’s letter did not specify the decision he was asked to consult on, but Johnson suggested in his response that it related to aspects of the Trade Remedies Authority and its decisions on tariffs for the steel industry.

The Trade Remedies Authority had claimed there was no legal justification for continuing a number of emergency tariffs on Chinese steel, which are due to expire at the end of this month.

“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,” Johnson said in his response.

“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. This has in the past had cross-party support. 

“It would be in line with our domestic law but might be seen to conflict with our obligations under the WTO. 

“In seeking your advice before any decision was taken, I was looking to ensure that we acted properly with due regard to the ministerial code.”

Johnson went on to praise Lord Geidt, writing that he had carried out his duties "admirably under very difficult circumstances”. 

“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." 

Lord Geidt had appeared before the public administration and constitutional affairs committee (PACAC) on Monday, where he did not deny reports he threatened to resign over the partygate scandal.

Lord Geidt wrote to the Prime Minister in May, claiming there were “legitimate questions” over whether Johnson receiving a fine meant he had breached the ministerial code, and accusing him of not promptly responding to a request for an explanation.

Responding to the correspondence, Johnson blamed a breakdown in communication and insisted that he did not believe the ministerial code had been broken.

The Times had reported following the exchange that Lord Geidt was “60/40” in favour of quitting his role.

He told MPs this week that journalists had correctly identified his “frustration” over the Prime Minister’s saga, but insisted that resignations were a “rather blunt” tool that he was reluctant to use.

"I hope to be very clear in my annual report and my preface that I have about what — indeed what the commentariat spotted — was perhaps I think a frustration on my part.”

He added that he was “glad” that the Prime Minister had responded to the concerns he raised, especially areas about which he was “clearly frustrated”.

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