BoJo Rejects Claims He Breached Ministerial Code After Ethics Chief Hints He May Quit Over Partygate
Last week, Boris Johnson was accused of “watering down” the rules for ministers after it was made clear they will not automatically lose their jobs if they breach the Ministerial Code. This came just days after the release of senior civil servant Sue Gray’s final report into No 10 lockdown parties led to renewed calls for BoJo to resign.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson
has tried to clear himself of breaching the Ministerial Code of Conduct during the “Partygate” scandal after his ethics chief Lord Christopher Geidt hinted that he may quit unless BoJo issued a public explanation about his behaviour.
In a letter to Geidt, which came a week after the publication of senior civil servant Sue Gray’s full report on the No 10 COVID rule-busting parties in 2020 and 2021, Johnson claimed that “taking account of all the circumstances”, his fixed-penalty notice (FPN) for attending the No 10 birthday event in June 2020 “did not breach” the Ministerial Code.
The UK prime minister underscored that after the Gray report’s release, he had apologised for attending the birthday party, for which he was slapped with an FPN by the London Metropolitan Police in April.
He said there was “no intent to break the regulations”, adding, “at the time” he “did not consider that the circumstances” in which he “received a fixed penalty notice were contrary to the regulations”.
According to BoJo, he has “accepted the outcome and paid it in compliance with legal requirements”. The PM also claimed that there had been a “failure of communications” between his office and that of Lord Geidt, who serves as the independent adviser on ministers’ interests.
“I was not aware of the weight you put on the absence of an explicit reference to the Ministerial Code,” the PM wrote in the letter.
Labour's Deputy Leader Angela Rayner reacted by arguing that “the prime minister's second ethics adviser has now threatened to quit, in the latest sign of the rampant sleaze engulfing Downing Street”. She apparently referred to Alex Allan stepping down as Johnson’s ethics adviser in late November 2020 after the PM concluded in his finding at the time that Home Secretary Priti Patel had not breached the Ministerial Code of Conduct by bullying civil servants.
BoJo's Ethics Adviser Accuses PM of Breaching Ministerial Code
Rayner’s remarks followed Geidt stating in his own report about his plans to step down and that there was a “legitimate question” about whether the June 2020 No 10 birthday gathering over which Johnson was fined by police represented a breach of the Ministerial Code.
BoJo’s ethics tsar also questioned Johnson’s willingness to be seen to “take responsibility for his own conduct” in relation to the rules for ministers.
“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 judgement 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,” Geidt pointed out.
He also insisted that Johnson should be “ready to offer public comment” on his obligations under the Ministerial Code in terms of the police fine. Claiming that this advice “has not been heeded”, Geidt argued that “It may be that the Prime Minister considers that no such breach of his Ministerial Code has occurred”.
Last week, Johnson was accused last week of “watering down” the government's code of conduct following BoJo-encouraged changes, which mean that ministers will no longer be compelled to resign if they breach the rules.
A government policy statement said that it was “disproportionate” to expect ministers to resign or face the sack for “minor” violations of the code’s provisions. The code has been updated, giving Johnson the option of ordering a lesser sanction such as “some form of public apology, remedial action or removal of ministerial salary for a period”.
Gray's 'Partygate' Report
The code changes came shortly after last week’s release of Gray’s report into the “Partygate”
scandal. In the document, which focused on 16 alleged No 10 rule-breaking events between May 2020 and April 2021, Gray wrote that "what took place at many of these gatherings and the way in which they developed was not in line with COVID guidance at the time".
She stressed that "the public have a right to expect the very highest standards of behaviour in such places, and clearly what happened fell well short of this".
Speaking in the House of Commons after the publication of the report, Johnson denied he had ever knowingly misled MPs about parties in Downing Street, adding that he takes “full responsibility” for No 10 partying.