Lord Geidt has suggested the Prime Minister’s partygate fine may have broken the ministerial code.
The Prime Minister, whose Government brought in the coronavirus regulations, was issued a fixed penalty notice (FPN) over a birthday party thrown in his honour in the Cabinet Room in June 2020 at a time when indoor socialising was banned.
Lord Geidt, in his latest annual report on ministers’ interests, noted for much of the period the conduct of the Prime Minister has “potentially been subject to consideration against the requirements of the code”.
He said of the updated rules for ministers: “Accordingly, and whether unfairly or not, an impression has developed that the Prime Minister may be unwilling to have his own conduct judged against the code’s obligations. The test for the credibility of these new arrangements is whether they are sufficient to command public trust in the independence of the independent adviser.”
Lord Geidt added: “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.”
Boris Johnson insists he ‘did not breach’ ministerial code
But Boris Johnson claimed his partygate fine “did not breach” the ministerial code as there was “no intent to break the law”.
In a letter to his independent adviser on the ministerial code, said his judgment on why he did not break the rules for ministers included that there have been “past precedents of ministers who have unwittingly breached regulations where there was no intent to break the law”.
Mr Johnson, in a letter released on Tuesday evening, said he had taken “full responsibility for everything that took place on my watch” in light of lockdown-busting gatherings in Downing Street and pointed to his House of Commons apology.
He reiterated there was “no intent to break the regulations”, adding: “I did not consider that the circumstances in which I received a fixed penalty notice were contrary to the regulations.
“I have accepted the outcome and paid it in compliance with legal requirements. Paying a fixed penalty notice is not a criminal conviction.”
He added: “In relation to the fixed penalty notice for my attendance in the Cabinet Room on June 19 2020, I believe that, taking account of all the circumstances, I did not breach the code.
“In coming to that conclusion, (a) I have duly considered past precedents of ministers who have unwittingly breached regulations where there was no intent to break the law; (b) I have been fully accountable to Parliament and the British people and rightly apologised for the mistake; (c) I have corrected the parliamentary record in relation to past statements; and (d) I have followed the principles of leadership and accountability in doing so.
“In my view, the same principles apply to the fixed penalty notice paid by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.”
Mr Johnson was last week accused of watering down the code after the Government said it was being updated – making clear that ministers will not necessarily have to resign for more minor violations.
Instead the Prime Minister will have the option of imposing a lesser sanction such as “some form of public apology, remedial action or removal of ministerial salary for a period”.
Mr Johnson was also criticised for refusing to give Lord Geidt the freedom to launch his own inquiries into possible breaches and he would still need the Prime Minister’s consent before proceeding.