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Partygate is not going away

1 June 2022

3:51 AM

1 June 2022

3:51 AM

Tory MPs just want partygate to go away. The hope that the Sue Gray report would be the end of things was always likely to be thwarted by the fact the privileges committee was going to investigate the government too. But before that inquiry has even got going, the story continues to rumble on.

This evening brings an annual report from Lord Geidt, the independent adviser on the ministerial code, which is written in Sir Humphrey-esque language but still makes clear how cross he is:

It may be especially difficult to inspire that trust in the Ministerial Code if any Prime Minister, whose code it is, declines to refer to it. In the case of the Fixed Penalty Notice recently issued to and paid by the Prime Minister, 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. It may be that the Prime Minister considers that no such breach of his Ministerial Code has occurred. In that case, I believe a Prime Minister should respond accordingly, setting out his case in public.

This matters to the integrity of the Independent Adviser who, otherwise, might until recently have had to seek a Prime Minister’s consent to make inquiries into a Prime Minister’s conduct. In the present circumstances, I have attempted to avoid the Independent Adviser offering advice to a Prime Minister about a Prime Minister’s obligations under his own Ministerial Code. If a Prime Minister’s judgement is that there is nothing to investigate or no case to answer, he would be bound to reject any such advice, thus forcing the resignation of the Independent Adviser.

Such a circular process could only risk placing the Ministerial Code in a place of ridicule. Instead, and since the point when the inquiries by the Cabinet Secretary (later conducted by the Second Permanent Secretary) and the Metropolitan Police were embarked upon, I have repeatedly counselled the Prime Minister’s official and political advisers that the Prime Minister should be ready to offer public comment on his obligations under the Ministerial Code, even if he has judged himself not to be in breach. This has been my standing advice, which I was assured had been conveyed to the Prime Minister. Its purpose has simply been to ensure that the Prime Minister should publicly be seen to take responsibility for his own conduct under his own Ministerial Code. That advice has not been heeded and, in relation to the allegations about unlawful gatherings in Downing Street, the Prime Minister has made not a single public reference to the Ministerial Code.

Johnson’s reply to Geidt refers to a ‘failure of communication between our offices’ and says that he is happy to set out the position as relates to the code. But Geidt’s intervention will lead to another day of headlines about partygate: the last thing No. 10 needs right now.

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