Union chiefs urge Truss to ‘rethink’ stance on ethics adviser

FDA and Prospect bosses call on new PM to appoint successor to Christopher Geidt

By Jim Dunton

07 Sep 2022

The leaders of two civil service unions have called on Liz Truss to commit to appointing an independent ethics adviser as part of a new focus on better standards and rooting out misconduct in Westminster and Whitehall.

FDA general secretary Dave Penman and Prospect boss Mike Clancy published a joint letter to Truss, urging her to usher in a new era of leadership, with a zero-tolerance approach to bullying, harassment, and sexual assault on the part of MPs and ministers.

Penman and Clancy’s core requests of the new PM are working with House of Commons speaker Lindsay Hoyle to introduce a formal mechanism to prevent MPs accused of serious sexual misconduct from attending parliament and the appointment of a new standards adviser.

At a Conservative Party leadership hustings event in Birmingham last month, Truss echoed predecessor Boris Johnson’s thoughts on the role of independent adviser on ministers’ interests – questioning the need to replace Christopher Geidt, who quit the post in June.

She refused to commit to replacing Geidt – who was one of two ethics advisers to walk out on Johnson during his time at No.10 – arguing that she understands “the difference between right and wrong”.

However, the independent adviser also reports on ministerial conduct – as was the case with Geidt’s predecessor Sir Alex Allan, who resigned in late 2020 when Johnson refused to accept his finding that the then-home secretary Priti Patel had bullied her staff.

In their letter, Penman and Clancy asked Truss to “commit to restoring ethics and standards in public life by reconsidering your suggestion that you may not appoint an independent adviser on ministers’ interests to replace Lord Geidt”.

In return, they pledged to work in partnership with Truss to bring about change.

“Our unions are not affiliated to any political party, and this issue is not limited to any one party, but it does require leadership from the prime minister,” they wrote.

“We are willing to meet and to work with anyone committed to rooting out this culture of impunity.”

Geidt quit after being put in what he described as an "impossible and odious position" in relation to a proposed “deliberate and purposeful breach” of the ministerial code that Johnson broached with him.

Three weeks later, Johnson’s handling of the Chris Pincher affair sparked his defenestration as PM. Former Foreign Office permanent secretary Simon McDonald revealed that Downing Street had been aware of allegations of misconduct against Pincher when he was appointed as Conservative Party deputy chief whip.

Lord McDonald’s intervention blew holes in several days of denials from No.10 about previous complaints relating to Pincher, who quit government at the end of June after an incident at the Carlton Club in which he is alleged to have groped two men.

McDonald said Pincher had been the subject of complaints from FCO officials about similar behaviour in 2019 that were upheld following an investigation, the findings of which were reported to the Cabinet Office and the then-PM.

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