BoJo’s Ex-Ethics Adviser Says Steel Issue a 'Distraction', Clarifies 'True Reason' For Quitting
07:46 GMT 18.06.2022 (Updated: 15:19 GMT 28.05.2023)
© Jack HillBritain's Princess Kate The Duchess of Cambridge is met in the rain by King's College Chairman Sir Christopher Geidt
© Jack Hill
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson's adviser on public standards, Christopher, Lord Geidt, quit over a plan by No 10 to "breach the ministerial code deliberately" which put him in an "impossible and odious" position, as was revealed by his resignation letter published by Downing Street on 16 June.
Boris Johnson’s former ethics adviser, Christopher, Lord Geidt, has offered “clarifications” about the reasons for his dramatic decision to quit, saying it “wasn’t about steel”.
In his letter today to William Wragg, chairman of the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, as cited by UK media outlets, Geidt claimed that Downing Street’s explanation for his resignation was a “distraction” from the actual truth.
16 June 2022, 06:53 GMT
In a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson explaining his decision to step down, released by Downing Street on Thursday, Geidt said he had been placed in an “odious and impossible” position when he had been "tasked to offer a view about the government's intention to consider measures which risk a deliberate and purposeful breach of the Ministerial Code".
"A deliberate breach, or even an intention to do so, would be to suspend the provisions of the code to suit a political end… I can have no part in this," stated Geidt's letter, which omitted any details of the plan in question.
However, Boris Johnson's written reply to Geidt suggested that the falling out was to do with the Trade Remedies Authority (TRA). Specifically, Johnson wrote back to Geidt stressing that he sought his advice "on a crucial industry, which is protected in other European countries and would suffer material harm if we do not continue to apply such tariffs". The PM said the tariffs would be in line with UK law but might face the accusation of breaking the country's World Trade Organisation obligations.
According to British political blogger Guido Fawkes, the trade issue may have been steel import tariffs, which the government has maintained against TRA advice in 2021.
Elsewhere in the letter, Geidt had also indicated his "frustration" that Johnson had yet to provide a “fuller” explanation amid accusations he misled Parliament over “partygate”. The PM had on several occasions said he did not believe he, cabinet members or staff broke any of the coronavirus lockdown restrictions in 2020-21.
In her report into workplace drinking in and around Downing Street at the time, senior civil servant Sue Gray criticised a "failure of leadership" at Number 10 that prompted the behaviour. Johnson is at present facing a Commons Privileges Committee inquiry into whether he lied to parliament over “partygate”.
‘Steel Tariffs’ a ‘Distraction’
However, Geidt has now written that “Emphasis on the steel tariffs question is a distraction”.
“There has been some confusion about the precise cause of my decision. My letter has been interpreted to suggest that an important issue of principle was limited to some narrow and technical consideration of steel tariffs. The cautious language of my letter may have failed adequately to explain the far wider scope of my objection,” he wrote to Tory MP Wragg,
“It was simply one example of what might yet constitute deliberate breaches by the United Kingdom of its obligations under international law, given the government’s widely publicised openness to this… I could not be a party to advising on any potential law-breaking,” stated the former private secretary to the Queen.
After this explanation from Geidt, the Liberal Democrat chief whip Wendy Chamberlain was quoted as saying: “This letter confirms what we already knew. Lord Geidt quit because he was sick of being asked to cover up for Boris Johnson’s law-breaking.”
Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, said Geidt stepped down “because of the odious behaviour of Boris Johnson’s Downing Street.”
“It’s high time for Tory MPs to do the decent thing by showing this rotten, rule-breaking prime minister the door,” said Rayner.
Labour MP Karin Smyth was cited as saying that Geidt's second letter offered “helpful clarity”, but that “it isn’t steel that broke the camel’s back”.
From the “partygate” fall-out to issues such as threatening to breach international law by unilaterally overriding the Northern Ireland protocol, signed by Boris Johnson as part of his Brexit deal, the PM has been mired in controversy. Furthermore, Downing Street has launched a review of the ethics adviser's role as part of a major overhaul of the of the ministerial standards rules.
21 November 2020, 15:54 GMT
Geidt is now the second ethics adviser to quit under Johnson’s premiership. In November 2020 Alex Allen stepped down after his report that UK Home Secretary, Priti Patel, had breached the ministerial code by bullying top civil servant Sir Philip Rutnam, was dismissed by No 10.