Boris Johnson’s ethics adviser threatened to resign amid a row over whether his Partygate fine breached the Ministerial Code.
In a dramatic intervention, Lord Geidt said there was a ‘legitimate question’ about whether the June 2020 birthday gathering over which Mr Johnson was fined represented a breach of the code.
He also questioned the Prime Minister’s willingness to be seen to ‘take responsibility for his own conduct’ in relation to the rules for ministers.
Mr Johnson responded by insisting his fine was not a breach of the code – but the ethics adviser’s comments will be seized on by the PM’s critics as he faces a growing revolt from his backbench MPs.
Lord Geidt warned he could have quit if Mr Johnson had explicitly disregarded his advice on the requirements of the code, so he avoided giving it.
In highly loaded remarks, he said: ‘I have attempted to avoid the independent adviser offering advice to a Prime Minister about a Prime Minister’s obligations under his own Ministerial Code.
‘If a Prime Minister’s judgment is that there is nothing to investigate or no case to answer, he would be bound to reject any such advice, thus forcing the resignation of the independent adviser.’
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has insisted that his fine for breaching lockdown rules was not a breach of the code
Lord Geidt (pictured) blasted Boris Johnson for having failed to have address allegations he breached the code in any of his recent public statements on Partygate
A picture of Mr Johnson at a gathering in the Cabinet Room of No 10 on his birthday, which has been released with the publication of Sue’s Gray report into Downing Street parties in Whitehall during Covid
In a letter to the peer, Mr Johnson blamed a ‘failure of communication’ between Downing Street and Lord Geidt’s office
The PM insisted to his ethics adviser he was ‘not aware of the weight you put on the absence of an explicit reference to the ministerial code’
Lord Geidt said he suggested to No 10 officials that Mr Johnson should be ‘ready to offer public comment’ on his obligations under the code in terms of the fine.
Noting that this advice ‘has not been heeded’, he said: ‘It may be that the Prime Minister considers that no such breach of his Ministerial Code has occurred.
‘In that case, I believe a Prime Minister should respond accordingly, setting out his case in public.’
Lord Geidt, the Prime Minister’s independent adviser on ministerial standards, made the pointed intervention in a preface to his annual report.
Responding to the comments, Mr Johnson argued that, ‘taking account of all the circumstances’, his fine for attending the birthday event in No 10 in June 2020 did not breach the Ministerial Code.
He said there was ‘no intent to break the regulations’, adding: ‘I did not consider that the circumstances in which I received a fixed penalty notice were contrary to the regulations.
‘I have accepted the outcome and paid it in compliance with legal requirements.’
Lord Geidt penned a scathing preface to his annual report in which he suggested he could have been forced to resign
No 10 last night did not dispute suggestions the Prime Minister had been forced to persuade Lord Geidt not to resign yesterday.
But Mr Johnson claimed there had been a ‘failure of communications’ between their two offices. ‘I was not aware of the weight you put on the absence of an explicit reference to the Ministerial Code,’ the PM wrote.
Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said: ‘The Prime Minister’s second ethics adviser has now threatened to quit, in the latest sign of the rampant sleaze engulfing Downing Street.’
Mr Johnson was accused last week of ‘watering down’ the government’s code of conduct following changes which mean ministers will no longer be compelled to resign if they breach the rules.