Boris Johnson’s independent ethics adviser said he quit his role after being placed in an “impossible and odious position” over the Partygate scandal.
In his letter to the Prime Minister explaining why he was stepping down, Lord Geidt said he was forced to quit when tasked with offering a view on the government’s “intention to consider measures which risk a deliberate and purposeful breach of the ministerial code”.
Mr Johnson is accused of lying to Parliament about the extent of his knowledge of the rule-breaking during illegal gaherings which had been held in Downing Street and Whitehall while strict lockdown rules were in place.
The Prime Minister’s response to the shock resignation, after a year of dealing with multiple potential breaches of the code, indicated that it was relating to advice on the Trade Remedies Authority.
What did Lord Geidt say?
In the letter published on Thursday, Lord Geidt wrote: “This request has placed me in an impossible and odious position.”
He said the idea that the Prime Minister “might to any degree be in the business of deliberately breaching his own code is an affront”.
The letter added: “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 licence the suspension of its provisions in governing the conduct of Her Majesty’s ministers.
“I can have no part in this.”
In his response, Mr Johnson said his intention was to seek Lord Geidt’s “advice on the national interest in protecting a crucial industry”.
He said the unspecified industry “is protected in other European countries and would suffer material harm if we do not continue to apply such tariffs”.
The PM insisted the matter has previously had cross-party support and that the request would be in line with domestic law “but might be seen to conflict” with the UK’s obligations under the World Trade Organisation.
He said: “In seeking your advice before any decision was taken, I was looking to ensure that we acted properly with due regard to the ministerial code.”
In a previous statement released on Wednesday, Lord Geidt offered his regret in resigning but said he believed it was the correct thing to do.
He said: With regret, I feel that it is right that I am resigning from my post as Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests.”
While appearing at a sitting of a parliamentary select committee on Tuesday, the former independent ethics adviser divulged that he had previously considered resigning from the post when news broke that Mr Johnson had been fined for attending an illegal gathering on 19 June 2021.
Lord Geidt said: “Resignation is one of the rather blunt but few tools available to the adviser. I am glad that my frustrations were addressed in the way that they were.”
He also told MPs that it was “reasonable” to come to the conclusion that the Prime Minister had broken ministerial code after recieving the fixed-penalty notice.
It had been previously reported that Lord Geidt had threatened to quit as Mr Johnson’s independent ethics adviser after the infamous Sue Gray report was published and laid bare the extent of rule-breaking and behaviour that went on during the illegal gatherings.
His resignation mark the second independent ethics adviser to quit under Mr Johnson’s premiership, after Sir Alex Allen stepped down in 2020 after the Prime Minister refused to accept his conclusions that Home Secretary Priti Patel had bullied civil servants.
What has been the reaction to the resignation?
A govenrment source has revealed that the resignation came as a “mystery” to the Prime Minister, adding that he believed Lord Geidt has wished to stay in the role until at least the end of the year.
While Mr Johnson himself has so far remained tight-lipped about the resignation, his political opponents have criticised the Prime Minister for “driving both of his own hand-picked ethics advisers to resign”.
Deputy Labout leader Angela Rayner said: “The Prime Minister has now driven both of his own hand-picked ethics advisers to resign in despair. If even they can’t defend his conduct in office, how can anyone believe he is fit to govern?
“The person who should be leaving Number 10 tonight is Boris Johnson himself. Just how long does the country have to wait before Tory MPs finally do the right thing?”