The prime minister’s former standards chief has blamed new proposals from No.10 involving a “deliberate and purposeful breach” of the ministerial code for his decision to quit office, a just-published exchange of letters reveals.
Christopher Geidt prompted surprise by announcing his resignation yesterday afternoon, one day after appearing before members of parliament’s Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, where he described the PM’s Partygate fine as a potential breach of the ministerial code.
His resignation letter to Johnson lays bare a range of frustrations over Partygate, but suggests new proposals from Downing Street that are separate from the PM’s involvement in rule-breaking lockdown get-togethers were what sparked his decision to quit.
Lord Geidt, who took up his post as independent adviser on ministers’ interests in April last year following the resignation of predecessor Sir Alex Allan, said he had been placed in an “impossible and odious position” with a request to offer views on new government measures earlier this week.
His letter made no reference to the nature of the measures. But Johnson’s response suggested the plans concerned international trade and, in particular, the work of new watchdog the Trade Remedies Authority.
Johnson said the contentious plans were designed to protect an unspecified “crucial industry” from “material harm”. However, he acknowledged they “might be seen to conflict with our obligations” to the World Trade Organization.
Geidt is understood to have threatened to quit over the PM’s behaviour on more than one occasion. One instance related to the probe into the funding of the refurbishment of Johnson’s Downing Street flat. A more recent issue was Johnson’s failure to publicly broach the ministerial code implications of his Partygate fine.
Geidt’s resignation letter said that until the latest issue arose, he had felt it possible to continue in his role with credibility, “albeit by a very small margin”. But he clearly stated that the latest issue had pushed him over the edge.
“My informal response on Monday was that you and any other minister should justify openly your position vis-à-vis the code in such circumstances,” he wrote.
“However, the idea that a prime minister might to any degree be in the business of deliberately breaching his own code is an affront.
“A deliberate breach, or even an intention to do so, would be to suspend the provisions of the code to suit a political end. This would make a mockery not only of respect for the code but license the suspension of its provisions in governing the conduct of Her Majesty’s ministers. I can have no part in this.”
Geidt appeared to suggest that his scheduled appearance before PACAC on Tuesday had stopped him from resigning earlier.
“Because of my obligation as a witness in parliament, this is the first opportunity I have had to act on the government’s intentions,” he wrote in the letter, dated 15 June.
“I therefore resign from this appointment with immediate effect.”
Johnson said he was “very sorry” to receive Geidt’s resignation and added that the independent adviser had carried out his duties admirably, under “very difficult circumstances”.