Boris Johnson’s ministerial code shake-up will not restore public trust, says watchdog

PM’s rule changes ‘highly unsatisfactory’, says Commons standards chief

Partygate has been ‘totally miserable experience’, says Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson has failed to counter the view that he and his ministers consider themselves above the rules, the leader of a powerful parliamentary ethics watchdog has said.

Jonathan Evans, the chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said Mr Johnson’s planned changes to the ministerial code were “highly unsatisfactory” and undermined the role of the prime minister’s ethics adviser.

Downing Street announced last week that the code would be updated to remove the expectation for ministers to resign over any breach of the code but would not allow the adviser, currently Lord Geidt, to launch his own investigation into potential breaches.

The changes go against recent recommendations by Mr Evans that a change to sanctions be linked to the increased authority of the adviser. Mr Evans said the proposed changes would not “restore public trust” in government standards.

Unless Lord Geidt can launch his own investigations without the prime minister’s permission, “suspicion about the way in which the ministerial code is administered will linger”, he said.

His remarks came as Priti Patel told colleagues working to remove Mr Johnson over the Partygate scandal to “forget it”.

In an interview with the Mail +, the home secretary said the uncertain number of Tory MPs who had submitted letters of no confidence to Sir Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 Committee, was creating a distraction.

“Writing letters is a sideshow, quite frankly, rather than focusing on the real challenges that we have to find solutions to,” she said.

Ms Patel’s criticism came after Nadine Dorries, the culture secretary, said the prime minister’s Tory critics were doing “the opposition’s work”.

It remains unknown how many letters Sir Graham has received but at least 30 Tory MPs had publicly called for the prime minister to resign by Wednesday evening.

The open condemnations of Mr Johnson have been frequent since the publication of the full Sue Gray report last week – although the government’s record on standards in public life had been under question for a long time prior.

Lord Geidt’s predecessor as ethics adviser, Alex Allan, quit in protest after the prime minister overruled his finding that Ms Patel had bullied staff.

On Wednesday, the Cabinet Office was forced to deny that Lord Geidt was planning to quit over the ministerial code changes, which he said represented “a low level of ambition” on improving standards.

The changes were announced ahead of an inquiry by the Commons privileges committee into whether Mr Johnson lied to parliament over lockdown-breaching parties in Downing Street.

However, it is unlikely to provide the PM with a get-out if the cross-party panel finds against him, as the new code continues to state that “ministers who knowingly mislead parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the prime minister”.

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