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Boris Johnson Can Decide If He Broke Ministerial Rules Over Downing Street Flat Refurbishment

3 min read

Downing Street has confirmed that Boris Johnson will retain the right to overrule a decision on whether he broke the ministerial code over the funding of renovations to his flat.

A new independent adviser on standards was appointed this morning, and the government said their first priority is to look into the details on who paid to redecorate the residence above Number 11.

But the Prime Minister’s official spokesperson said Johnson will get to decide on any sanctions against himself, even if Lord Geidt’s review concludes there has been a breach.

Johnson will remain the “ultimate arbiter” of whether he broke the ministerial code, and is not willing to recuse himself despite being the target of the investigation, No.10 confirmed. 

“As the ultimate arbiter of the code, the responsibility for deciding on an investigation, and the drawing of final conclusions from it, rightly remains one for the Prime Minister”, the spokesman said.

This means Johnson could reject any findings on himself. 

Number 10 confirmed Lord Geidt will have slightly strengthened powers than those afforded to previous ministerial advisors on standards after recommendations from the Committee on Standards in Public Life.

But they have refused to accept all of the suggestions made by its chair Lord Evans, who wrote to the PM earlier this month.

He said they “should be given authority to initiate investigations”, and “should be able to publish a summary of their findings, stating whether or not the adviser believed the ministerial code had been breached, and the adviser's view on the severity of the breach”.Previously the adviser would not be able to initiate an investigation unless directed by the PM, whereas the terms of reference for Lord Geidt’s role, published alongside news of his appointment this morning, reveals where he believes an allegation "might warrant further investigation, he will raise the issue confidentially with the Prime Minister”.

But it adds: “The decision on whether a Minister remains in office after an investigation sits with the Prime Minister, as ‘the ultimate judge of the standards of behaviour expected of a Minister and the appropriate consequences of a breach of those standards’.

“The Prime Minister may ask the Independent Adviser for recommendations about the appropriate sanction where the Prime Minister judges there to have been a breach of those standards.

“These recommendations will remain confidential.”

The previous ministerial standards adviser, Sir Alex Allan, resigned after Johnson overruled his investigation into allegations against Priti Patel last autumn. A Judicial Review of Johnson's decision was granted in the High Court yesterdayAllan concluded the home secretary had inadvertently breached the ministerial code and her “approach on occasion has amounted to behaviour that can be described as bullying in terms of the impact felt by individuals”, but the PM took no action. Patel denies the allegations. 

The position has been vacant for the past five months, and has been linked to the late publication of the register of ministerial interest, due at the end of 2020, in which Johnson and the Cabinet must declare donations, loans and outside interests.

The PM’s spokesperson said Lord Geidt would now be looking at getting the document into the public domain.

His investigation is one of three concurrent inquiries into the Downing Street flat scandal, after Cabinet Secretary Simon Case announced on Monday he would reviewing the situation, and the Electoral Commission launched a formal investigation into the role of the Conservative Party in the affair, saying there was "reasonable grounds" to suspect an offence may have occurred.

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