BoJo’s Ethics Adviser Quits Amid ‘Partygate’ Backlash as Labour Doubts PM ‘Fit to Govern’
06:53 GMT 16.06.2022 (Updated: 15:24 GMT 28.05.2023)
Late last month, Lord Geidt hinted that he may quit as the PM’s ethics adviser unless Prime Minister BoJo issued a public explanation about him receiving a police fine in April over attending a Downing Street party in 2020. The event was part of senior civil servant Sue Gray’s “Partygate” full report that was released last month.
Boris Johnson’s ethics adviser Lord Christopher Geidt has tendered his resignation to the UK prime minister, according to a brief statement on the British government's website.
“With regret, I feel that it is right that I am resigning from my post as Independent Adviser on Ministers' Interests”, the statement cited Geidt as saying on Wednesday evening.
A government spokesperson responded by saying that Downing Street is “surprised by this decision, given Lord Geidt's commitment to the role, to the prime minister, and in his evidence to the House of Commons just yesterday”.
"This week, the independent adviser was asked to provide advice on a commercially sensitive matter in the national interest, which has previously had cross-party support. No decision had been taken pending that advice. Whilst we are disappointed, we thank Lord Geidt for his public service. We will appoint a new adviser in due course”, the spokesperson added.
The statement followed Lord Geidt refusing to rule out during an address to MPs on Tuesday that he had considered resigning over Johnson's response to being fined by the Metropolitan Police
in April for breaching COVID lockdown rules amid the “Partygate” scandal.
The ethics adviser told the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee in the House of Commons that he was unhappy over the lockdown-busting events that took place in Downing Street in 2020 and 2021.
“I am glad that the prime minister was able to respond to my report and in doing so addressed aspects of the things about which I was clearly frustrated. Resignation is one of the rather blunt but few tools available to the adviser. I am glad that my frustrations were addressed in the way that they were,” Geidt pointed out.
Labour Urges BoJo to Step Down After Geidt's Resignation
Labour’s Deputy Leader Angela Rayner
reacted to Geidt’s resignation by stating on Wednesday that “the prime minister has now driven both of his own hand-picked ethics advisers to resign in despair. If even they can’t defend his conduct in office, how can anyone believe he is fit to govern?”
She was referring to the fact that Geidt is the second person to resign as Johnson's ethics adviser during BoJo’s less than three years as prime minister. Alex Allan stepped down in 2020 after Johnson refused to accept his finding that Home Secretary Priti Patel had bullied civil servants.
Rayner argued that Johnson “remains propped up in office by a Conservative party that is mired in sleaze and totally unable to tackle the cost of living crisis facing the British people”.
According to the Labour deputy leader, “the person who should be leaving Number 10 tonight is Boris Johnson himself. Just how long does the country have to wait before Tory MPs finally do the right thing?”
She was echoed by the Liberal Democrat chief whip, Wendy Chamberlain MP, who said that “when both of Boris Johnson’s own ethics advisers have quit, it is obvious that he is the one who needs to go”.
“For the good of Britain, the next resignation we should be hearing about is that of Boris Johnson,” Chamberlain stressed.
Geidt Hints He May Resign
The remarks come a few weeks after Johnson tried to clear himself of breaching the Ministerial Code of Conduct during the “Partygate” scandal after Geidt hinted that he might quit unless BoJo issued a public explanation of his behaviour.
In a letter to Geidt, the PM claimed that “taking account of all the circumstances”, his fixed-penalty notice (FPN)
that he received from the Metropolitan Police in April for attending the No 10 social gathering in June 2020 “did not breach” the Ministerial Code. Johnson insisted that there was “no intent to break the regulations”, adding that “at the time” he “did not consider that the circumstances”, in which he “received a fixed penalty notice were contrary to the regulations”.
This was preceded by Geidt stating in his own report about his plans to step down and that there was a “legitimate question” about whether the June 2020 No 10 birthday gathering over which Johnson was fined by police represented a breach of the Ministerial Code.
The ethics adviser also questioned Johnson’s willingness to be seen to “take responsibility for his own conduct” in relation to the rules for ministers.
“I have attempted to avoid the independent adviser offering advice to a Prime Minister about a Prime Minister's obligations under his own Ministerial Code. If a Prime Minister's judgement is that there is nothing to investigate or no case to answer, he would be bound to reject any such advice, thus forcing the resignation of the independent adviser,” Geidt asserted.
Last month, Johnson was accused of “watering down” the government's code of conduct following BoJo-encouraged changes, which mean that ministers will no longer be compelled to resign if they breach the rules. A government spokesperson said that it was “disproportionate” to expect ministers to resign or face the sack for “minor” violations of the code’s provisions. The updated code gives Johnson the option of ordering a lesser sanction such as “some form of public apology, remedial action or removal of ministerial salary for a period”.
Gray's 'Partygate' Report
The code changes came shortly after the release of senior civil servant Sue Gray’s report
into the “Partygate” scandal. In the document, which focused on 16 alleged No 10 rule-breaking events between May 2020 and April 2021, Gray wrote that "what took place at many of these gatherings and the way in which they developed was not in line with COVID guidance at the time".
Speaking in the House of Commons after the publication of the report, Johnson denied he had ever knowingly misled MPs about parties in Downing Street, adding that he takes “full responsibility” for No 10 partying. The Gray report was followed by Tory MPs voting 211 to 148 earlier this month in support of Johnson, who had already refused to step down despite the scale of the rebellion against his leadership, vowing to “deliver on what the people of this country care about most”.