Why does the PM need an Ethics Adviser?

Yes, indeed.

This reminds me of a question posed to my husband when he was Mayor. He was visiting a school and the Mayor’s attendant that day was also a children’s entertainer, and some of the children recognised him. One of them asked “Why does the Mayor need a magician?”.

But back to the Prime Minister. The role of an Ethics Adviser (technically the Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests) was established in 2006. The adviser is appointed directly by the Prime Minister.

The Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests is appointed by the Prime Minister to advise him on matters relating to the Ministerial Code. The post holder is independent of government and expected to provide impartial advice to the Prime Minister. (Terms of reference)

The previous Ethics Adviser, Sir Alex Allen, was asked in 2020 to investigate bullying claims against Priti Patel and had found that she had broken the Ministerial Code, which would normally result in resignation . Boris Johnson backed Priti Patel and stated that he had full confidence in her, so Alex Allen resigned.

And now a second Ethics Adviser appointed by Boris Johnson has resigned. Lord Geidt informed the Prime Minister of his decision on Tuesday and last night his resignation letter was published (after some anger at its delay).

The trigger for his resignation was when Boris Johnson asked him to approve a plan to extend tariffs on steel imports, which would have broken World Trade Organization rules.

Here is the key extract from Lord Geidt’s letter:

This week, however, I was tasked to offer a view about the Government’s intention to consider measures which risk a deliberate and purposeful breach of the Ministerial Code. This request has placed me in an impossible and odious position. My informal response on Monday was that you and any other Minister should justify openly your position vis-3-vis the Code in such circumstances. However, the idea that a Prime Minister might to any degree be in the business of deliberately breaching his own Code is an affront. A deliberate breach, or even an intention to do so, would be to suspend the provisions of the Code to suit a political end. This would make a mockery not only of respect for the Code but licence the suspension of its provisions in governing the conduct of Her Majesty’s Ministers. I can have no part in this.

Liberal Democrat chief whip Wendy Chamberlain, said:

When both of Boris Johnson’s own ethics advisers have quit, it is obvious that he is the one who needs to go.

Today we hear that Boris Johnson is planning to scrap this inconvenient role. That did spark off several predictable comments, including this from Ed Davey.

 

* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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One Comment

  • Peter John Hirst 3rd Jul '22 - 4:42pm

    Let’s not confuse ethics with the law. They are very separate. Steel tariffs are a legal issue. Perhaps BJ prefers to ask whoever he thinks will give him the answer he wants. Or perhaps he does not understand the difference. He needs both.

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