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Boris Johnson's planned a "deliberate and purposeful" breach of the ministerial code that forced his own ethics chief to quit because it put him in an “impossible and odious” position, it has emerged.
Lord Geidt announced his shock resignation on Wednesday, the day after telling MPs it was “reasonable” to suggest the prime minister breached the ministerial code by breaking COVID-19 lockdown laws.
In a resignation letter – published by the government on Thursday – Geidt said he was forced to quit when he was tasked with offering a view on the government’s “intention to consider measures which risk a deliberate and purposeful breach of the ministerial code”.
A response from the prime minister revealed it related to advice over the Trade Remedies Authority (TRA).
In his reply, Johnson shared his surprise, and said his intention was to seek Geidt’s “advice on the national interest in protecting a crucial industry”.
The TRA is the body set up to protect UK industries from unfair practices or unexpected surges in imports.
These remedies usually take the form of additional duties on those imports, effectively making UK-produced products more competitive.
The body was set up following Brexit, as such measures were handled by the European Union’s institutions while the UK was in the single market.
Geidt became the second ministerial interests adviser to resign during the prime minister’s three years in office, though until the letter was made public, the reasons for his departure were a mystery.
His predecessor, Sir Alex Allan, resigned in November 2020 after Johnson ignored his finding that the home secretary Priti Patel had bullied civil servants.
Watch: Boris Johnson's ethics adviser in shock resignation
It also comes just days after the government's anti-corruption tsar, John Penrose, resigned from his post and called on the PM to do the same, accusing him of breaking the ministerial code.
In June, Geidt published his annual report on ministers' interests, which found Johnson’s behaviour had led to an "impression... the prime minister may be unwilling to have his own conduct judged against" the code.
He added that when it came to the matter of the PM’s fine over breaking lockdown laws, "a legitimate question has arisen as to whether those facts alone might have constituted a breach of the overarching duty within the ministerial code of complying with the law".
Labour said the loss of two independent ethics advisers in two years was a “badge of shame” for the Government.
Shadow Cabinet Office minister Fleur Anderson said: “To lose one ethics adviser was really an embarrassment but to lose two in two years, just days after the prime minister’s own anti-corruption tsar walked out on him, well it is becoming a bit of a pattern.
“It is a pattern of degrading the principles of our democracy. The prime minister has now driven out both of his hand-picked ethics advisers to resign in despair in two years, it is a badge of shame for this government.”
More to follow...