Lord Geidt resigned as Boris Johnson’s ethics adviser over plan to ‘deliberately breach ministerial code’

‘I can have no part in this’: Adviser protests he was put in an ’impossible and odious’ position

Labour's Fleur Anderson says resignations are 'a badge of shame for this government'

Boris Johnson’s ethics adviser quit over a No 10 plan that risked a “deliberate breach the ministerial code”, his resignation letter reveals.

However, Christopher Geidt’s letter fails to fully lift the lid on the controversy – which Downing Street described as a “commercially sensitive matter in the national interest”.

In a stinging letter – which the government first attempted to suppress – Lord Geidt says he was put in an “impossible and odious” position by the request to advise on the plan.

“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,” he has written.

He was already only clinging onto the role “by a very small margin” over Mr Johnson’s refusal to let him investigate the Partygate scandal, the adviser states.

In his reply, Mr Johnson hints the issue concerns steel tariffs, being connected with the new post-Brexit Trade Remedies Authority and the need to protect a crucial industry from damage.

The planned move would potentially breach “obligations” with the World Trade Organisation, the reply acknowledges.

Lord Geidt’s letter adds: “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.”

Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, tweeted: “No wonder the PM tried to keep Lord Geidt’s resignation letter under wraps – this is absolutely excoriating. How on Earth is our utterly unashamed rule-breaking PM still in office?”

Diana Johnson, a Labour MP asked, mockingly: “What is it about the prime minister that causes him to have such rotten luck in retaining ethics and anti-corruption advisers?”

The resignation – the second by Mr Johnson’s adviser on the ministerial code in under three years – leaves Downing Street flailing to find a replacement willing to take on the poisoned chalice.

In the Commons, the paymaster general Michael Ellis declined to confirm that a new adviser will be appointed – despite the many sleaze allegations against the current government.

Lord Geidt’s letter also reveals that he had decided to resign before his bruising evidence session before a committee of MPs on Tuesday.

He hinted he would have investigated Mr Johnson – if he had been allowed to – over whether he breached the code in being fined over the No 10 parties.

And he said: “It’s reasonable to say that, perhaps a fixed penalty notice and the prime minister paying it, may have constituted not meeting the overarching duty under the ministerial code of complying with the law.”

Last year, the Trade Remedies Authority (TRA) recommended the removal of some tariffs on Chinese steel – but was overruled by the government, after protests by the steel industry.

One trade expert said tariffs were extended for one year, but only until the end of this month – suggesting ministers were poised to overrule the TRA a second time, without legal justification for doing so.

In his reply, Mr Johnson wrote his plan involved “protecting a crucial industry”, which “would suffer material harm if we do not continue to apply such tariffs”.

Mr Johnson’s spokesman refused to confirm if steel is the industry concerned and said Lord Geidt had not provided any “formal advice”.

“The prime minister sought Lord Geidt’s advice in relation to this issue and the interplay with the ministerial code. That is not unusual in and of itself,” he said.

He added: “The independent TRA has provided advice to ministers which found that a critical national industry is at risk of material harm if the government doesn’t take action, affecting businesses and livelihoods.

“It is ultimately a decision for the government. No decisions have been taken with regard to this particular issue at this point.”

In a statement, the TRA said that the case referred to in Lord Geidt’s letter was one “called in” by the government earlier this year, meaning that ministers hold full decision-making authority in relation to it.

“The TRA has carried out analysis under the government’s direction and we provided a report of findings to the secretary of state for international trade on 1 June,” said the statement.

“The report of findings is an analytical piece of work designed to inform government decision-making and does not contain recommendations from the TRA.”

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