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Boris Johnson's Former Ethics Adviser Says Steel Is a "Distraction" From Objection That Drove Resignation

3 min read

Lord Geidt, who resigned from his position as Boris Johnson's ethics adviser last week, has insisted that the move was not limited to the issues around steel, but was driven by broader ethical objections.

In a letter addressed to the chair of Parliament’s Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee (PACAC), Geidt emphasised his decision to step down was not limited to ethical considerations regarding steel tarrifs.

Instead he highlighted the problem of being asked to “give advanced cover to the Prime Minister where there is contemplation of doing something that may be in breach of international law”. 

“Since my letter of resignation was made public… there has been some confusion about the precise cause of my decision,” Geidt wrote in the letter, which has been made public by the committee

“My letter has been interpreted to suggest that an important issue of principle was limited to some narrow and technical consideration of steel tariffs,” he added.

“The cautious language of my letter may have failed adequately to explain the far wider scope of my objection.”

Geidt sent shockwaves through Westminster when he became the second independent ethics adviser appointed by Johnson to step down from the role in the space of three years.

The peer had previously been vocal about his discomfort over Johnson’s belief that receiving a fixed penalty notice for breaking Covid lockdown rules did not constitute a breach of the ministerial code.

In his resignation letter, Geidt said he had been put in an "impossible and odious position" after being asked to consider a “deliberate and purposeful breach” of the ministerial code.

The peer did not specify the decision he was asked to consult on, but Johnson suggested in his written 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.

The publication of Geidt’s latest letter today emphasises the peer’s woes with the government extend beyond the one matter.

While explicit references to international law are no longer contained in the ministerial code, Geidt argues breaking such laws – which in his view the government appeared prepared to do – would constitute a prima facie breach.

“There is no explicit derogation, no let-off written into the code to absolve individual ministers of their own obligations under the code in such circumstances,” he said.

“Accordingly, and conscious of my own obligations under the Seven Principles of Public Life (including integrity), I could not be a party to advising on any potential law-breaking."

A Downing Street spokesperson said: “We remain grateful to Lord Geidt for his work and his service within governments and elsewhere.

"We believe it was right to consult on this issue of national interest but no final decisions have been made.”

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