Prime minister Boris Johnson has lost his second standards adviser in 19 months after Lord Christopher Geidt announced he is quitting the role barely a year into the post.
Geidt’s surprise announcement last night came a day after he appeared before members of parliament’s Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee and was quizzed about his role and powers. Tellingly, he told MPs resignation was “always on the agenda as an available remedy to a particular problem”.
Announcing his resignation, Geidt did not give a reason for leaving the role, commenting only that it was the “right thing” to do. He is understood to have provided a more detailed explanation to No.10 and Downing Street is expected to issue a formal response later today.
The government said it is “disappointed” with Geidt’s decision, but thanked him for his public service.
A government spokesperson told the BBC that Geidt had this week been asked to “to provide advice on a commercially sensitive matter in the national interest, which has previously had cross-party support”. They added that no decision had been taken pending that advice.
Labour MP Chris Bryant, who chairs the Commons Committee on Standards and Privileges, told Radio 4's Today programme he hoped the Cabinet Office would publish Geidt’s resignation letter in full today.
Geidt’s predecessor, Sir Alex Allan, quit as the PM’s standards adviser in November 2020 after Johnson rejected his findings that home secretary Priti Patel had broken the ministerial code by bulling her staff.
On Tuesday, Geidt alluded to frustrations with his role, but suggested Allan’s resignation had unhelpful implications for the work of the independent adviser because of a backlog of work that was created by the five-month gap ahead of his appointment.
At the session in parliament, Geidt acknowledged that the fine handed to Johnson as part of the Metropolitan Police’s investigations into the Partygate scandal could have been a breach of the ministerial code, but did not propose further action on the matter.
“It’s reasonable to say that perhaps a fixed-penalty notice and a prime minister paying for it may have constituted not meeting the overarching duty under the ministerial code of complying with the law,” he said.
Geidt told MPs that his powers as independent adviser on ministerial standards did not allow him to launch an investigation into the PM’s conduct without Johnson’s approval at the time the fixed-penalty notice was issued in April.
Rule-changes introduced by Johnson last month give the adviser more scope to launch their own investigations, and Geidt told MPs he believed the new powers would now be sufficient to launch an inquiry into an issue such as the Partygate fine.
Also on Tuesday, Geidt repeatedly declined to offer a view on a call from the Committee on Standards in Public Life for the powers of the prime minister’s independent adviser on ministerial standards to be put on a statutory basis.
“That’s a policy matter for government,” he said in response to one such question. “My role is really as the practitioner to understand and make whatever comes my way operate.”
Geidt said arguing for or against his role receiving a statutory footing could be seen as “offering a prejudicial comment into a policy arena”.
Committee member David Jones described Geidt’s approach as “frustrating”.