The ethics advisor to Britain's scandal-hit Prime Minister Boris Johnson has quit and accused the Conservative government of planning to flout conduct rules, weeks after a separate investigation criticised the UK leader for overseeing a culture of government rule-breaking.
Christopher Geidt stepped down late on Wednesday with a terse statement saying “with regret, I feel that it is right that I am resigning from my post as Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests”. Johnson’s office said it was surprised by the decision.
In a resignation letter, which was published on Thursday by the government, Geidt said he was put in an “impossible and odious position” because the government asked him to advise on measures that would “risk a deliberate and purposeful breach of the Ministerial Code" that regulates government conduct.
He did not elaborate but said: “I can have no part in this.”
In response, Johnson indicated the issue concerned tariffs imposed to protect a “crucial industry” which might “be seen to conflict with our obligations" under the World Trade Organization.
The government declined to confirm reports that the industry is steelmaking, citing “commercial sensitivity." Britain has imposed anti-dumping tariffs on Chinese steel to protect its domestic industry and has recently proposed extending them for five more years.
Johnson's spokesman said “no decisions have been taken" on what to do about the tariffs.
Geidt had stayed in his job as Johnson was buffeted by allegations about his judgment and ethics culminating in the “partygate” scandal over parties in government buildings during Britain’s coronavirus lockdowns. Johnson was one of 83 people fined by police, and a civil servant’s report said Johnson and senior officials must bear responsibility for “failures of leadership and judgment” that created a culture of rule-breaking in government.
When he was quizzed by lawmakers this week, Geidt acknowledged he had felt “frustration” in his job, noting that he was appointed by the prime minister and so was not “truly independent”.
The resignation of his hand-picked ethics advisor is the latest blow for Johnson, who survived a no-confidence vote by his own Conservative Party last week. He has been left a weakened leader after 41% of Conservative lawmakers voted to remove him.
Johnson still faces a parliamentary ethics probe that could conclude he deliberately misled parliament over “partygate” - traditionally a resigning offence
Geidt’s predecessor as ethics adviser, Alex Allan, also quit, stepping down in November 2020 after the prime minister ignored his finding that a Cabinet member had bullied her staff and broken the ministerial code of conduct - also usually a resigning offence.
“For the prime minister to lose one adviser on ministers’ interests may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose two looks like carelessness,” said Conservative lawmaker William Wragg, a critic of Johnson.
Geidt, a former private secretary to Queen Elizabeth II, had been accused of going easy on top officials in his investigations. Last year he cleared Johnson of breaking the ministerial code when the leader failed to disclose that a Conservative party donor had funded a pricey refurbishment of the prime minister’s official residence.
In April, he cleared Treasury chief Rishi Sunak of wrongdoing over his wife’s tax affairs and his possession of a US permanent resident’s card.