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Boris Johnson’s ethics adviser quit after accusing the Prime Minister of threatening to make a “mockery” of the code of conduct for ministers, it was revealed on Thursday.
In a bombshell resignation letter, Lord Geidt said Mr Johnson had asked him to advise on proposals which the Prime Minister said related to future decisions linked to a body called the Trades Remedies Authority.
In his letter Lord Geidt said the measures risked a “deliberate and purposeful breach of the ministerial code” and had placed him in an “impossible and odious position”
He went on: “My informal response on Monday was that you any other Minister should justify openly your position vis a vis the code in such circumstances.”
“However, the idea that a prime minister might to any degree be in the business of deliberately breaching his own code is an affront. A deliberate breach, or even an intention to do so would be to suspend the provisions of the code to suit a political end.
“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.”
Set up after Brexit, the UK’s Trade Remedies Authority has powers to investigate and address unfair trade practices and subsidies.
In his reply to the letter Mr Johnson said he was surprised by the timing of his decision after Lord Geidt had told him he was “content to remain until the end of the year”.
On the Trade Remedies Authority, the Prime Minister said: “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.
“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.”
He added: “You have carried out your duties admirably under very difficult circumstances.”
No10 declined to confirm whether the dispute was over the steel industry but said it related to a critical national industry”.
The storm erupted as the Government is already facing questions over its respect for international law after tabling the Northern Ireland Bill which would allow it to unilaterally tear up sections of a Brexit trade pact signed by Mr Johnson just over two years ago.
Lord Geidt’s letter also included references to the Prime Minister’s response to the partygate scandal which saw him fined £50 for breaching the Covid law by attending a surprise birthday party for himself in June 2020 in No10.
Justice Secretary Dominic Raab also today said the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg was wrong to issue an injunction which led to the Government’s first deportation flight of migrants to Rwanda being grounded on Tuesday night. He signalled that the Government would change the law to prevent this from happening in future.
Mr Johnson had hoped his victory in last Monday’s confidence vote of Tory MPs — by 211-148 — would allow him to move on from the partygate scandal which has dogged his administration since the end of last year.
He still faces a probe by Parliament’s Privileges Committee over whether he knowingly misled MPs over what he knew about lockdown busting parties in Downing Street and Whitehall.
Lord Geidt’s resignation came a day after he told MPs it was “reasonable” to suggest the PM broke the Ministerial Code by breaching lockdown laws.
Labour forced an urgent question in the Commons on the resignation this morning. Labour MP Fleur Anderson said it showed the Government following a “pattern of degrading the principles of our democracy”.
In his letter the former ethics adviser said he was “disappointed” that the Prime Minister did not give a fuller account over how paying the fixed penalty notice over parties did not breach the code.
Lord Geidt expressed “regret” that the reference to “miscommunication” between their offices implied he “was somehow responsible for you not being fully aware of my concerns”.
“These inconsistencies and deficiencies notwithstanding, I believed that it was possible to continue credibly as independent adviser, albeit by a very small margin,” he wrote.
Lord Geidt is the second No10 ethics adviser to resign in two years. Sir Alex Allan quit in 2020 after Mr Johnson refused to accept his finding that Priti Patel had bullied civil servants.