Rayner accuses PM of “watering down” ministerial code to “save his own skin”

© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Angela Rayner has accused Boris Johnson of “watering down the rules to save his own skin” after the Prime Minister amended the rules requiring ministers to resign over breaches of the ministerial code.

Johnson has changed the rules to allow ministers found to have broken the code to apologise or temporarily lose pay rather than resign. In a statement today, the Prime Minister claimed it is “disproportionate to expect that any breach, however minor, should lead automatically to resignation or dismissal”.

Labour’s deputy leader said: “Boris Johnson has today rewritten his own foreword to the ministerial code, removing all references to integrity, objectivity, accountability, transparency, honesty and leadership in the public interest. This Prime Minister is downgrading and debasing the principles of public life before our very eyes.

“In a week when Boris Johnson’s lies to parliament about industrial rule-breaking at the heart of government were finally exposed, he should be tendering his resignation but is instead watering down the rules to save his own skin.

“Once again, Boris Johnson has demonstrated he is not serious about his pledge to address the scandal and sleaze engulfing his government or the frequent and flagrant breaches of standards and rule-breaking that have taken place on his watch.

“Labour’s independent integrity and ethics commission will stamp out Conservative corruption and restore the trust in public office this Prime Minister has eroded.”

An updated version of the ministerial code states that, if a breach has been found to have occurred, “where the Prime Minister retains his confidence in the minister, available sanctions include requiring some form of public apology, remedial action, or removal of ministerial salary for a period”.

Johnson also rejected the proposal that his independent adviser Lord Geidt should have the power to launch investigations into ministers independently of the Prime Minister. Lord Geidt will continue to require Johnson’s consent to initiate investigations, and the Prime Minister retains the right to block inquiries.

Johnson is due to be investigated by the Commons privileges committee over claims he misled parliament over ‘partygate’. The new version of the ministerial code continues to state that ministers who knowingly mislead parliament “will be expected to offer their resignation”.

Johnson told parliament that all “the guidance was followed” when initially questioned about the allegations. After a video was released showing No 10 staff laughing about a party on December 18th 2020, Johnson said he had been “repeatedly assured” that “there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken”.

Labour MP Catherine West asked Johnson at Prime Minister’s Questions in December 2021 whether there was a party in Downing Street on November 13th 2020, to which the Prime Minister said: “No, but I am sure that whatever happened, the guidance was followed, and the rules were followed at all times.”

Photographs were published on Monday appearing to show Johnson drinking with a group of eight people at an event in Downing Street on November 13th 2020. Covid rules at the time allowed two people from different households to meet indoors.

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