Who among us is stupid enough to be Boris Johnson’s next ethics adviser?

Why would anyone take the job? It only has one way of ending

Tom Peck
Thursday 16 June 2022 14:11
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<p>One wonders quite where Johnson ranks in Geidt’s long, dignified career</p>

One wonders quite where Johnson ranks in Geidt’s long, dignified career

It’s not exactly one of the great mysteries of the age, is it? Just why is it that Boris Johnson has now had a second ethics adviser resign on him in barely two years? The greater mystery is that he was ever able to find one, let alone lose them again.

Agreeing to be Boris Johnson’s ethics adviser is an act of stupidity that can be rivalled only by agreeing to be a vegan chef to a Tyrannosaurus rex. There are only so many unwanted dishes/emails you can send over before it’s you that gets eaten up instead.

According to the letters exchanged between Lord Geidt, the now ex-independent ethics adviser, and the prime minister, it is the subject of potentially illegal steel subsidies that did it. Not the 126 people that got fined for partying in the prime minister’s house, not the attempt to establish a moody charitable trust to get donors to pay for his golden wallpaper. Though it is arguably worth noting that this irresolvable question of steel subsidies has come to a head 24 hours after Geidt was forced to publicly humiliate himself on live television for an hour and a half while having to defend his own decision not to resign, but knowing he would be doing so the second the committee was finished.

One wonders quite where Johnson ranks in Geidt’s long, dignified career, which is probably now finished. His work as private secretary to Her Majesty the Queen is regularly referenced, but arguably of greater interest is the fact that he managed to spend several years working as a special liaison officer to the Bosnian-Serb leadership in the early 1990s, who were at the time engaged in acts that would render them the most notorious war criminals of the late 20th century.

While Geidt was dealing with Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić, both were actively engaged in acts of genocide for which they were eventually convicted. Yet, as a statement of fact, it is Boris Johnson, not them, whom Geidt has decided he cannot work alongside and keep his basic dignity intact.

He was, he said, in the way that only people like him can, “disappointed” at many of the things Johnson had done while Geidt was advising him. The most blatant is that in his statement after the Sue Gray report, Johnson declined to mention the clear fact that the report concluded he had broken the Nolan Principles on standards in public life. If you’ve broken the code and decided it’s best to ignore it, that does rather make life difficult for the chap who’s meant to advise you on it.

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Geidt’s letter obviously raises more questions than it answers. Whether the government should or shouldn’t knowingly break World Trade Organisation rules on steel subsidies must pass a lot of desks, not least people at various government departments and its own lawyers. If it has become a question for the prime minister’s ethics adviser, who is not a lawyer after all, then, well, it’s fair to conclude that the details are rather murkier than have yet become apparent.

At some point, Johnson is going to have to find himself another ethics adviser. You know, someone to tell him such things as, well, you’re going to have to pay for your £40,000 sofa yourself. Or even, you probably can’t just unilaterally break an international treaty you not only signed but based an entire election campaign on. Or maybe, no, you can’t use Owen Paterson to try and bring down the standards commissioner because she’s had the cheek to investigate you as well.

Why would anyone take the job? It only has one way of ending because Johnson only has one way of being – and that is not going to change.

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