Those in public life should act with integrity, Archbishop of York suggests

·5-min read
Stephen Cottrell, the Archbishop of York, suggested leaders must act with integrity (Danny Lawson/PA) (PA Archive)
Stephen Cottrell, the Archbishop of York, suggested leaders must act with integrity (Danny Lawson/PA) (PA Archive)

The Archbishop of York has asked the people of Britain to consider what kind of the country it should be as he suggested those in public life need to “live to the highest standards” and act with integrity.

In his Easter sermon at York Minster, Stephen Cottrell asked whether the UK wants “to be known for the robustness of our democracy” where those who lead the country can be trusted.

Referencing the growing cost-of-living crisis faced by households and the “depressing and distressing” plan to send migrants to Rwanda, Mr Cottrell said: “As we emerge from Covid the great question I find myself asking is the same as the one asked by my predecessor, William Temple, at the height of the Second World War, who wrote this ‘when this is done, what sort of nation do we want to be?’.

The Most Reverend Stephen Cottrell, during his enthronement as the 98th Archbishop of York in 2020 (Danny Lawson/PA) (PA Archive)
The Most Reverend Stephen Cottrell, during his enthronement as the 98th Archbishop of York in 2020 (Danny Lawson/PA) (PA Archive)

“So this is my question this Easter day. Do I want to be part of a nation that is hopeful, enterprising, that cares for those in need, that supports those who are in poverty because they can’t afford the heating or food for the table and offer genuine help?

“Do we want to be a nation that seeks to build and make peace, not merely enjoy it, that builds an international consensus about what it means to live alongside our neighbour?

“Do we want to continue to be known as a country that opened proper, legitimate pathways for all who flee violence, conflict and oppression, not just those from Ukraine, but also those fleeing other conflicts and the effect of climate change?

“Do we want to be known for the robustness of our democracy, where those in public life live to the highest standards, and where we can trust those who lead us to behave with integrity and honour?”

It comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson, his wife Carrie, and Chancellor Rishi Sunak were fined for their involvement in the partygate saga, where Downing Street gatherings were held during lockdown restrictions.

Mr Sunak, meanwhile, has been under further pressure over his wife’s tax arrangements and the couple previously holding US green cards.

A police officer outside 10 Downing Street (Yui Mok/PA) (PA Wire)
A police officer outside 10 Downing Street (Yui Mok/PA) (PA Wire)

Meanwhile, Labour branded Mr Johnson’s involvement in partygate “indefensible” after fresh allegations emerged.

The Sunday Times reported new claims that Mr Johnson was not only present at a leaving do for his former press chief Lee Cain on November 13 2020, but that he led the celebrations.

A source suggested to the newspaper this had started as the press office having drinks to finish off the week, but turned into a party once the Prime Minister arrived, poured drinks and made a speech.

The newspaper said a No 10 source did not deny the characterisation of the gathering, but denied Mr Johnson was the instigator.

The report also said the Prime Minister’s official photographer had captured photographs of Mr Johnson holding a beer at the June 2020 birthday bash for which he, his wife, and Mr Sunak were fined.

Mr Johnson is understood to have been present for at least six of the 12 events being investigated by the Metropolitan Police for breaking Covid rules, and is braced for more fines potentially to come.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson could be fined again over the partygate saga (Matt Dunham/PA) (PA Wire)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson could be fined again over the partygate saga (Matt Dunham/PA) (PA Wire)

It is understood he is likely to make a statement to the Commons on Tuesday.

Earlier, crossbench peer and historian Peter Hennessey told BBC Radio 4’s Broadcasting House programme that the country was in “the most severe constitutional crisis involving a prime minister that I can remember, and it goes to the heart of the character of the Prime Minister”.

Reading from his diary entry from Tuesday, when Mr Johnson apologised after receiving his partygate fine, Lord Hennessey said the PM had “shredded the ministerial code” and was “unworthy” of the Queen, “her Parliament, her people and her kingdom”.

Still reading from the entry, he added: “I cannot remember a day where I’ve been more fearful for the wellbeing of the constitution.”

However, Cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg played down the “constitutional significance” of the ministerial code.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend programme, he said: “The ministerial code is not a legislative part of our constitution, it is a set of guidelines produced by the Prime Minister.”

I think that when you hear what happened on the party for which he has been fined, many people would think that they were in accordance with the rules

Cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg

He said that when Mr Johnson told MPs rules had been followed in No 10 during Covid restrictions: “I think that the Prime Minister spoke to Parliament in good faith”.

He added: “I think that when you hear what happened on the party for which he has been fined, many people would think that they were in accordance with the rules, when they were meeting people they were with every day, who happened to wish them a happy birthday, because that was the day it was.

“I think that was a perfectly rational thing to believe. Now the police have decided otherwise and the police have an authority. But he wasn’t thinking something irrational or unreasonable, that that was within the rules.”

Downing Street declined to comment when approached by the PA news agency and has repeatedly said it would not comment until the police investigation concludes.

Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “While the British public was making huge sacrifices, Boris Johnson was breaking the law.

“If the latest reports are true, it would mean that not only did the Prime Minister attend parties, but he had a hand in instigating at least one of them. He has deliberately misled the British people at every turn.

“The Prime Minister has demeaned his office. The British people deserve better. While Labour has a plan for tackling the cost-of-living crisis, Tory MPs are too busy defending the indefensible actions of Boris Johnson.”

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