Labour calls vote to put No 10 in “special measures” if ethics adviser role not filled

Katie Neame
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Angela Rayner has threatened to put No 10 in “special measures” as Labour prepares to call a vote on a proposal granting a cross-party committee powers to uphold the ministerial code if Boris Johnson fails to appoint a new ethics adviser.

MPs will vote on the motion this afternoon, after the Prime Minister’s official spokesperson said this week that there were no plans to recruit a replacement following the resignation of Lord Geidt last week.

The deputy Labour leader said: “Labour will put No 10 in special measures to prevent this Prime Minister running roughshod over the rules, dodging accountability and degrading standards in public life.

“While this sleaze-ridden Prime Minister is propped up in office by Conservative MPs, the government is totally unable to tackle the cost-of-living crisis facing the British people.

“Labour’s proposal would ensure that a cross-party group of MPs is given powers to step in and monitor this rogue Prime Minister’s behaviour until a new, genuinely independent adviser is confirmed.

“This vacancy must not only be filled, but the role urgently reformed as the committee on standards in public life has concluded. It’s time for Conservative MPs to stop propping up this disgraced Prime Minister and back Labour’s plan to clean up politics.”

Rayner declared that Johnson had “driven both of his own handpicked ethics advisers to resign in despair” and left an “ethical vacuum in Downing Street”. Geidt’s predecessor Sir Alex Allan also chose to quit in 2020, having been overruled by Johnson over allegations of bullying made against Priti Patel.

The motion, if passed, would allow the Commons public administration and constitutional affairs committee (PACAC) to appoint its own independent adviser on the ministerial code and initiate investigations if the ethics adviser role remains unfilled.

In his resignation letter to Johnson on Wednesday, Geidt said he was asked to advise on the government’s intention to consider “measures which risk a deliberate and purposeful breach of the ministerial code”. He declared that the request had placed him “in an impossible and odious position”.

Geidt wrote: “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.”

In a second letter sent to PACAC chair William Wragg on Friday, Geidt went into more detail about his resignation, noting that there had been “some confusion about the precise cause of my decision”.

He wrote: “My letter has been interpreted to suggest that an important issue of principle was limited to some narrow and technical consideration of steel tariffs. The cautious language of my letter may have failed adequately to explain the far wider scope of my objection.”

The letter continued: “Emphasis on the steel tariffs question is a distraction. It was simply one example of what might yet constitute deliberate breaches by the United Kingdom of its obligations under international law, given the government’s widely publicised openness to this.”

Geidt concluded: “Conscious of my own obligations under the Seven Principles of Public Life (including integrity), I could not be a party to advising on any potential law-breaking”.

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