Boris Johnson is changing the rules to allow ministers to avoid resigning if they break the ministerial code, allowing them to apologize or temporarily lose their pay instead.
The Prime Minister, who is himself accused of breaching the code, issued a political statement on Friday saying it is ‘disproportionate to expect any breach, however minor, to automatically lead to resignation or dismissal “.
A new version of the ministerial code has been released, suggesting that in future ministers are likely to face ‘public apologies, remedial action or removal of ministerial pay for a period’ if they retain the Prime’s confidence minister.
One of the reasons for changing the rules is ‘to avoid incitement to trivial or vexatious complaints which may be made for partisan reasons’, he says after a series of complaints about the conduct of party ministers Labor and the Liberal Democrats.
The change comes as Johnson faces his own investigation by the Privileges Committee into whether he misled Parliament by claiming there were no parties in No 10 during lockdown and that the rules were followed at all times.
The ministerial code continues to say that it is a matter of resignation if a minister “knowingly” misleads the House of Commons.
However, if Johnson is found to have breached other tenets of public life, such as a lack of openness and honesty, the changes to the rules make it less likely that he will automatically be called upon to resign.
Under the changes to the guidelines, Johnson also rejected the idea that his independent adviser should have the power to launch inquiries into ministers or the prime minister without his permission.
The adviser, currently Christopher Geidt, a former assistant to the queen, will be able to launch investigations in the future but only with the agreement of the Prime Minister, who will retain the power to block an investigation. In such a case, the advisor would have the power to make this situation public.
Johnson also rewrote the foreword to the code, removing all references to honesty, integrity, transparency and accountability.
In his first preface, published in 2019, he wrote: “There must be no bullying or harassment; no leakage; no breach of collective responsibility. No misuse of taxpayers’ money and no real or perceived conflicts of interest. The valuable principles of public life enshrined in this document – integrity, objectivity, accountability, transparency, honesty and leadership in the public interest – must be upheld at all times; as is the political non-partisanship of our much admired public service.
The 2022 foreword simply lists the government’s priorities, with only a brief mention of the standards and behavior of ministers, saying: “Thirty years after its first publication, the Ministerial Code continues to serve its purpose, guiding my ministers on how they should act and conduct their affairs. As Head of Her Majesty’s Government, my responsibility lies with Parliament and, through the ballot box, with the British people. »
Responding to the changes, Angela Rayner, the deputy leader of the Labor Party, said: ‘He is degrading the standards and belittling the principles of public life before our very eyes.’
Nick Timothy, a former adviser to Theresa May, said: ‘If Tory MPs feel the Prime Minister could listen, learn or change, change the ministerial code so he is not supposed to resign when he breeze should… clinch the argument.”
Wendy Chamberlain, the Lib Dem’s chief whip, said it was an ‘appalling attempt by Boris Johnson to rig the rules to get off the hook’.
“It seems the Tories have learned nothing from the Owen Paterson scandal,” she said, referring to the MP who breached the code of conduct for MPs but whose suspension the government tried to block.
“The Prime Minister should not be allowed to decide his own sentence without any accountability. This makes him judge and jury in his own case. If the privileges committee finds that Boris Johnson has lied to parliament, Tory MPs will surely have no choice but to sack him.