Boris Johnson’s former ethics adviser said Downing Street’s reason for his resignation was a ‘distraction’ and doubled down on claims the government wanted to break international law.
After dramatically stepping down this week, Christopher Geidt said his explanation used too much “cautious language” leading to “some confusion about the precise cause of my decision”.
In Lord Geidt’s initial letter to No 10 on Wednesday, he said he had been asked to advise on a “heinous” breach of the Ministerial Code. Johnson’s response suggested it was a plan to extend steel tariffs in violation of World Trade Organization rules.
However, after much mystery as to why Geidt decided to quit because of this issue and not greater Partygate concerns, he issued a “clarification on my reasons for leaving”. “There has been some confusion over the precise cause of my decision,” he wrote in a letter to Conservative MP William Wragg, chairman of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC).
“My letter has been interpreted as suggesting that an important matter of principle is limited to a narrow and technical review of steel tariffs. The cautious language of my letter may not have sufficiently explained the much broader scope of my objection.
Geidt, a former private secretary to the queen, said the focus on the steel tariff issue was a distraction and “merely an example of what may yet constitute deliberate breaches by the UK of its obligations under international law, given the government’s widely publicized openness to it.”
While the explicit reference to international law was removed from the Ministerial Code in 2015, Geidt said there was “no explicit waiver, no written waiver in the code to absolve individual ministers of their own obligations”. He said that given his commitment to integrity, “I could not have left to advise on a possible breach of law”.
Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, said Geidt had quit ‘because of Boris Johnson’s heinous behavior in Downing Street’, and added: ‘It’s high time Tory MPs did the decent thing by showing this Prime rotten, rule-breaking minister wears it.”
Karin Smyth, a Labor MP who sits on PACAC, said Geidt’s letter provided “helpful clarity”, but “it wasn’t the steel that broke the camel’s back”.
The government was accused earlier in the week of threatening to breach international law by publishing plans to unilaterally overturn the Northern Ireland Protocol signed by Johnson as part of his Brexit deal.
Westminster insiders have speculated that Geidt may have referred to the issue without explicitly referring to it in his last letter when he raised concerns about ministers breaking international law.
Geidt is the second ethics counselor to resign under Johnson. In November 2020, Alex Allen resigned after it was discovered Home Secretary Priti Patel breached ministerial code by bullying staff was dismissed by No 10.
Downing Street has launched a review of the role of ethics adviser and has not confirmed whether he will replace Geidt.