‘You can’t pretend it doesn’t matter’: Johnson urged not to scrap Lord Geidt’s role


The government’s former anti-corruption champion has said it would be “quite a big mistake” for Boris Johnson to scrap the ethics adviser role after the resignation of Lord Geidt.

The prime minister’s official spokesperson said on Thursday that Johnson would not immediately start looking for a replacement for Geidt, but would instead review the system of enforcing the ministerial code.

In a strongly worded resignation letter published by Downing Street on Thursday, Geidt cited Johnson’s problematic response to the Partygate scandal as one reason for his departure.

But he made clear the final straw had been a request from Johnson for Geidt to approve a plan to extend tariffs on steel imports, which could break World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, putting the government in breach of international law.

John Penrose, who resigned from the anti-corruption role last week, said of the ethics adviser position: “You can obviously change the role a bit, but you shouldn’t be weakening the role.

“If you’re going to come up with a revised version as a successor to Lord Geidt, some new format, some new way of dealing with the issue, that’s all fine. But it should be a question of how, not if.

“You can’t just pretend that it doesn’t matter, and that there’s no job to be done.”

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I just think that the prime minister is currently overdrawn, if I can put it that way, on his account with both the voters and with the parliamentary party. They need to show that they’re serious about this.

“This is part of the reset, I would argue, which the prime minister has rightly said he wants to do after last week’s vote of no confidence. Good for him. This will be a good way of being part of that and moving it forward.”

Earlier, the business minister Paul Scully said he would be comfortable without an ethics adviser as long as there was a “mechanism” in place to hold cabinet members to account.

When asked whether he could say that Boris Johnson upheld high standards, he said: “Yes, I can.

“I think Lord Geidt seems to have resigned on the discussion around when the prime minister asked him for advice for supporting industries in the next few months.”

He added: “In terms of the prime minister’s behaviour, he rightly wants to draw a line under the so-called Partygate because people are worried more about the cost of living, what it’s going to mean for their mortgages and their bills in the days and months ahead.”

When asked whether he would be comfortable if no one is hired to replace Geidt as adviser on ministerial standards, Scully said: “I think I would be comfortable with that as long as there is a mechanism that [ensures]the prime minister and that me as a minister are held to the highest standards.

“There is a ministerial code there and we want to make sure that it’s adhered to, because it [enshrines]the principles that we all stand on, not just as MPs when we first come into the house, but when we accept office as ministers.”

Source: The Guardian