Anti-corruption watchdog the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments has chastised Boris Johnson for not seeking its approval for resuming his role as a highly-paid national newspaper columnist when he resigned as foreign secretary.
As a former minister, Johnson was bound under the Ministerial Code to inform Acoba of his plans to take up outside employment before any announcement of a new role was made. Former senior civil servants are also required to seek approval from the body in a bid to dissuade them from trading on their access to Whitehall contacts when seeking new employment.
In a letter to Johnson published yesterday, but dated 8 August, Acoba chair Baroness Angela Browning said the Daily Telegraph had begun promoting the return of the Conservative Party leadership hopeful as a columnist less than a week after he quit as a minister and almost two weeks before he informed the panel of his plans.
She added that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had confirmed that Sir Simon McDonald, permanent under secretary and head of the diplomatic service, had written to Johnson on 9 July outlining his duties on his resignation as foreign secretary.
“This letter stated that former ministers are required to seek advice from the committee on any appointments or employment they wish to take up within two years of leaving office,” she said.
However Browning added that Johnson had told Acoba he did not receive McDonald's letter until after he had signed a new contract with The Telegraph – a move said to have taken place on July 12.
Regardless of the timing of any letter from the FCO, Browning said that Johnson would have been asked to sign to say he had read and understood his obligations under the Ministerial Code twice during his two years at King Charles Street.
“The committee considers it to be unacceptable that you signed a contract with The Telegraph and your appointment was announced before you had sought and obtained advice from the committee as was incumbent on you on leaving office under the business appointment rules,” she said.
Johnson is not the first member of his political generation to be chastised by Acoba for cutting it out of the loop.
Last year Acoba said it was a “matter of regret” that former chancellor George Osborne’s appointment as editor of London’s Evening Standard was announced before the panel had time to properly consider his request to take up the post.
In June, Labour’s shadow cabinet office minister Jon Trickett branded Acoba “toothless” and said it had “not once refused a single appointment to a public servant”. In particular the MP cited Osborne’s Standard job and former prime minister David Cameron’s “special status to hold talks with China on behalf of Britain” as examples of a revolving-door culture that Acoba was failing to prevent.
Acoba can approve appointments, advise on any necessary safeguard, and – ultimately – suggest that an appointment is “unsuitable”. However under normal circumstances it only publishes guidance given to individuals after they have taken up their new role, in some cases months afterwards. It never publishes details of requests for appointments that were deemed unsuitable.
Johnson is understood to earn £275,000 a year for his Telegraph columns following a £25,000 pay rise in 2015. In 2009 when he was mayor of London, he infamously described his then-£250,000 stipend from the newspaper as “chicken feed”.
The Uxbridge and South Ruislip MP’s latest Telegraph column, which contained divisive opinions on the visual impact of items of clothing worn by some Muslim women, has created new turmoil for the Conservatives.
Party chairman Brandon Lewis yesterday announced that the comments would be examined with a view to potentially launching a full investigation.