Boris Johnson urges release of former ethics adviser’s resignation letter

Boris Johnson is under growing pressure to publish a letter from Lord Christopher Geidt explaining why he is stepping down as ethics adviser to the prime minister.

The government released a brief statement on Wednesday night announcing that the adviser had resigned from the role, without explaining his reasons for doing so.

However, Geidt, the Queen’s former private secretary, is said to have written a full letter explaining why he stepped down after just 14 months – something ministers have so far refused to make public.

A government spokesman hinted Wednesday night that Geidt had dropped a “commercially sensitive” issue he had been asked to arbitrate.

“This week, the independent adviser was asked to advise on a commercially sensitive matter of national interest that has previously enjoyed multi-party support,” he said. “No decision has been made pending that advice.”

The opposition Labor Party was given an urgent question in the House of Commons on the matter on Thursday.

Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, said it was unusual for the government not to publish an exchange of letters giving the reasons for her resignation. “We need to see Geidt’s resignation, there can’t be a good reason to cover it up,” she said.

Chris Bryant, chair of the parliamentary committee on standards, said: “The government must publish Lord Geidt’s letter today.”

Dominic Raab, deputy prime minister, told BBC’s Radio 4 Today program where he couldn’t discuss the letter because he hadn’t seen it. He suggested that a more detailed explanation be published from Downing Street later in the day.

Raab said that earlier this week, Geidt was discussing keeping his role for another six months. “So I don’t know and you don’t know the personal circumstances or those issues and I don’t really want to speculate on that,” he said. “But there will be an extra update of Number 10 today and all I can go on, like you, is the rather succinct quote he gave.”

Lord Geidt is the second ethics adviser to step down under Johnson’s prime minister and did so a day after expressing his “disappointment” over the “partying” in which Downing Street gatherings broke the restrictions of Covid-19.

Geidt’s resignation took the government by surprise and his departure will raise further questions about Johnson’s conduct and the general standards of his administration. The departure comes a week after he survived a confidence vote among Tory MPs by 211 votes to 148 votes.

The adviser said this week it was “reasonable” to conclude the prime minister had violated a ministerial rule for parties to lock down Covid-19.

Geidt’s predecessor, Sir Alex Allan, resigned in November 2020 after Johnson failed to act after he published a critical report about alleged bullying by Priti Patel, the home secretary.

The advisor was hired by Johnson in April 2021 and lasted over a year on the job.

Geidt’s first assignment was to investigate the financing of the renovation of Johnson’s 10th flat. He has been criticized for not being thorough enough in examining the prime minister’s claim that he was unaware that the funding was coming from a Tory donor.

Asked by the Commons public administration committee on Tuesday, Geidt admitted: “How can I beat the impression that it is a cozy relationship, not independent enough? It is very difficult. But I’m trying my best to work with what I have.”

He describes himself as “the prime minister’s property. . . rather than a freelance orbiter”, although he feels Johnson has given him new powers to start his own investigations.

Geidt has said it is “reasonable” to suggest Johnson may have violated a ministerial rule when he was fined in the partisan scandal. He told MPs that the “ordinary man or woman” could conclude Johnson had broken the rule, since he had received notice of the fixed penalty. The Code requires ministers to comply with the law.

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