boris johnson
© Zuma Press/PA Images
UK PM Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson has watered down the ministerial code and blocked a bid to give his ethics advisor the power to investigate him.

Just days after Sue Gray's report slammed No10's leadership for the "culture" that led to Partygate, the Prime Minister issued a new version of the rules for ministers - allowing ministers to break the rules without resigning.

And he dismissed calls from his ethics advisor Lord Geidt, who had asked for the power to launch investigations into behaviour independently in the wake of the Downing Street flat row.


Comment: Where his wife stands accused of bullying two advisors out of a job for rejecting her demands that the taxpayer pay for exorbitant redecoration costs.


In his introduction to the previous edition of the ministerial code, the Prime Minister said ministers must "uphold the very highest standards of propriety" - words that have been removed from the revamped edition.

The new introduction says the code should "guide my ministers on how they should act and arrange their affairs".
Geidt
© PA
Lord Geidt, the PM's standards advisor
And the foreword no longer explicitly mentions the seven Nolan principles of public life - integrity, objectivity, accountability, transparency, honesty and leadership in the public interest.

Labour's Angela Rayner said: "Boris Johnson has today rewritten his own foreword to the ministerial code, removing all reference to honesty, integrity, transparency and accountability. He is downgrading standards and debasing the principles of public life before our very eyes."

Lord Geidt told the Prime Minister his confidence had been "shaken" by the scandal over who funded the refurb of the Prime Minister's flat, and that the episode demonstrated "insufficient regard or respect for the role of Independent Adviser."

The Mirror understands political aides in No 10 discussed plans to strengthen Lord Geidt's role before the publication of the Sue Gray report, but that they then had to put them to the PM to give his permission.

Today, in a long-delayed revamp of the role, the Independent Advisor on the Ministerial Code will get a proper office, staff and a website.

But the government announced he would still need the "consent" of the Prime Minister before launching his own probes.

And the Prime Minister will still have the final say on whether to hand out any punishment for wrongdoing by a minister.

Meanwhile, the new version of the ministerial code - the code of conduct for ministers, including the Prime Minister - was published, with a raft of watered-down punishments available.

Previously it was expected that any minister who broke the code should offer their resignation.

But from today, the options open to the PM "where he retains confidence in the minister" will include "some form public apology, remedial action or removal of ministerial salary for a period."

The policy statement announcing the changes read: "It is disproportionate to expect that any breach, however minor, should lead automatically to resignation or dismissal."

It went on to say the Advisor's new office must be "mindful of the need to avoid incentives for trivial or vexatious complaints."

Chris Bryant, who chairs the Commons Standards Committee, said: "The new ministerial code is a disgrace. It means that the tiny semblance of accountability disappears.

"If you break the rules just rewrite the rule book is the motto of this despicable government."

In a letter to William Wragg, chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee in January, Lord Geidt indicated that he believed his office should hold the power to launch independent investigations without permission from the PM.

And he wrote: "I would expect by the time of my next Annual Report in April to be able to describe the role of Independent Adviser in terms of considerably greater authority, independence and effect, consistent with the ambitions for the office that the Prime Minister has set out."

Tim Durrant of the Institute for Government said: "Lord Geidt's independence has NOT increased. He still has to ask the PM for permission to investigate. Anything else is bluster."

Former Tory MP Rory Stewart said: "Whenever unwritten rules of our constitution have checked Boris Johnson he has sought to overturn them. We have seen it in his approach to parliament, the Supreme Court, lobbying, funding, appointments and now the Ministerial code.

"The constitution dies the death of a 1000 cuts."

Lib Dem Chief Whip Wendy Chamberlain accused the PM of trying to "rig the rules" to "get himself off the hook."

She said: "It seems the Conservatives have learnt nothing from the Owen Paterson scandal.

"The Prime Minister shouldn't be allowed to decide on his own punishment - with zero accountability. This is making him judge and jury in his own case.

"If the privileges committee finds Boris Johnson lied to Parliament, surely Conservative MPs will have no choice but to sack him."