Boris Johnson's ethics adviser resigns

Cristopher Geidt, until this very Wednesday independent adviser on ministerial interests of Boris Johnson, has decided to throw in the towel in the face of an impossible job. The watchman of the ethical behavior of the Prime Minister and the rest of the members of the British Government has submitted his resignation with the same discretion with which in recent years he has complained to Johnson every time he had the impression that the politician was teasing. Twenty-one words (in English) to say goodbye: “With regret, I feel that the right thing is for me to resign from my position as independent adviser on ministerial interests.”

Each prime minister chooses a private adviser to ensure compliance with the Ministerial Code, a kind of Code of Good Governance endorsed by the head of government ―Johnson, in this case― that defines the ethical obligations that must be fulfilled ―and if not, resign – the members of the Cabinet. It can point out problems, and twice a year it publishes the list of ministers’ private interests. But he can only start a specific investigation with the permission of his direct boss. Paradoxically, it was Johnson who commissioned him last year to investigate allegations of illegal financing in the redecoration works of the private apartment occupied by the prime minister and his wife in Downing Street. Through the Conservative Party, thousands of pounds from a private donor had been spent on luxury furniture, even wallpaper.

Geidt, 60, better known as Lord Geidt, then excused Johnson. He believed the politician’s version, that he claimed not to have been aware of the origin of the money. Shortly after publishing his conclusions, WhatsApp exchanges between Johnson himself and businessman David Brownlow came to light, in which the former asked for more money to finish the works. He had to send a letter to Geidt in which he expressed his “most humble apologies” to prevent the adviser from then handing in his resignation. He also tried to convince her that he had had to change his mobile phone for security reasons, and that was the reason that the messages had not been included in the investigation.

But what most irritated the adviser, a man respected by British politicians, a member of the House of Lords, and Elizabeth II’s private secretary for ten years (2007-2017), was that Johnson did not lift a finger, beyond presenting cardboard excuses to Parliament again, after the London Metropolitan Police decided to fine him for his participation in one of the Downing Street parties during confinement. It was the first time that a sitting prime minister had been sanctioned for breaking the law. For Geidt, it was a clear breach of the Ministerial Code that required a forceful response, or risk rendering the code a dead letter, and his advisory role a joke. Again Johnson tried to convince him with soft words, and lukewarm excuses, such as that he was never aware that he had been breaking the rules of social distancing.

“From the position of a normal citizen, I can conclude that paying a fine implies not having complied with the main rule of the Ministerial Code, which is to comply with the law,” admitted Geidt this Tuesday in an appearance before the Commission for Public Administrations and Constitutional Affairs of the House of Commons, made up of Conservative and Labor MPs, in which he suffered an avalanche of criticism for his role. MPs questioned the usefulness of his role in recent years. Hours later, he tendered his resignation. A Downing Street spokesman expressed Johnson’s surprise at the decision and said the adviser had committed to a further six months in office.

His predecessor, Alex Allan, also resigned after concluding that Home Secretary Priti Patel had engaged in workplace bullying with staff under her command. Johnson decided to keep her on the job.

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