So why DID Boris’s sleaze chief quit? Mystery as Lord Geidt’s resignation letter is kept secret after he becomes the second standards adviser to walk out in just 18 months – with claims he had been asked to sign off a ‘commercial matter’
- Lord Geidt sensationally quit his role as Boris Johnson’s Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests
- It ends speculation about the future of the PM’s ethics adviser following disparaging comments on Partygate
- The PM has now seen two departures from the role under his premiership after Sir Alex Allan quit in late 2020
Lord Geidt’s surprise departure came days after an appearance before MPs in which he suggested he had decided against walking out. And he is said to have told Mr Johnson he wanted to stay on for another six months.
Mysteriously, the peer’s resignation letter has not been released, with only a brief statement confirming his decision.
In a round of interviews this morning, Deputy PM Dominic Raab insisted he did not know why Lord Geidt – a former private secretary to the Queen – had chosen to go. But he pointed to the ‘rough grilling’ he experienced at the hands of a Commons committee this week, and said the peer had also recently been asked to advise on ‘a commercially sensitive matter in the national interest’.
The exit means that Mr Johnson is looking for his third ethics adviser in barely 18 months, with questions over who will be willing to take on the poisoned chalice now.
Mr Raab said Downing Street will give a ‘further full update’ later. But opposition politicians demanded to see the exchange of letters between the premier and Lord Geidt, speculating it could be ‘incriminating’.
A short statement released on the Government’s website confirmed Lord Geidt (right) will leave his role as the Prime Minister’s Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests
In a round of interviews this morning, Deputy PM Dominic Raab insisted he did not know why Lord Geidt – a former private secretary to the Queen – had chosen to go
There had been weeks of speculation about Lord Geidt’s future following the Partygate scandal
Harriet Harman under pressure over tweets
Tory MPs have called on Harriet Harman to quit a panel probing the Prime Minister over Partygate after it emerged she had accused him of lying.
Labour’s former deputy leader is to replace Chris Bryant on the Commons privileges committee.
One of three tweets she sent on April 12 said that if the Prime Minister and Chancellor Rishi Sunak accepted a Covid fine ‘then they are also admitting that they misled’ the Commons. She also wrote: ‘These were laws to save lives that they broke!’ Backbencher Sir Bill Cash said Miss Harman ‘ought to reconsider her position’.
Former Lord Chancellor Sir Robert Buckland advised that she ‘reflect very carefully’ on tweets suggesting ‘she is biased’.
Mr Raab told Sky News: ‘First of all, he’d been engaged with the Prime Minister in Number 10 this week and discussing staying on for six months.
‘My understanding was that he was committed to the role.
‘I think he had a pretty rough grilling by MPs this week, I think sometimes we in the media and as politicians maybe underestimate how civil servants feel with that kind of scrutiny.
‘And thirdly there was a particular issue, a commercially sensitive matter in the national interest, which he was asked to look at.
‘I don’t know which aspect of this – there will be an update from Number 10 later.’
When asked why the Government has not published Lord Geidt’s resignation letter, he said: ‘I don’t know whether there’s a full letter’, adding that the adviser will be replaced ‘as soon as possible’.
In a terse statement uploaded to the Government’s website last night, Lord Geidt said: ‘With regret, I feel that it is right that I am resigning from my post as independent adviser on ministers’ interests.’
A No 10 source said the move came as a ‘total surprise’ to Mr Johnson, and claimed that as late as Monday, Lord Geidt had asked if he could stay on for another six months.
Lord Geidt becomes the second independent adviser on ministers’ interests to resign during Mr Johnson’s tenure as Prime Minister. Sir Alex Allan quit in 2020 after Mr Johnson refused to accept his finding that Home Secretary Priti Patel had bullied civil servants.
On Tuesday, Lord Geidt refused to deny that he considered resigning over the Prime Minister’s response to being fined for attending a party in Downing Street during lockdown.
And he accepted that it was ‘reasonable’ to suggest the PM may have breached the Ministerial Code as a result of being issued with a fixed penalty notice by the Metropolitan Police.
‘I think it’s reasonable to say that perhaps a fixed penalty notice and the PM paying for it may have constituted not meeting the overarching duty of the Ministerial Code of complying with the law,’ Lord Geidt said.
Earlier this month, it was reported that Lord Geidt threatened to quit after the publication of senior civil servant Sue Gray’s report into lockdown violations in Whitehall unless Mr Johnson issued a public explanation for his conduct.
In response, the Prime Minister put out a letter to Lord Geidt saying he believed any breach of the Covid rules when he attended a gathering in No 10’s Cabinet room for his 56th birthday had been ‘unwitting’. Mr Johnson said he had acted in ‘good faith’ when he told Parliament that there had not been any parties and that he had since corrected the record.
Asked by MPs on Tuesday about reports that he threatened to quit, Lord Geidt acknowledged that ‘the commentariat’ had picked up on his ‘frustration’.
‘I am glad that the Prime Minister was able to respond to my report and in doing so addressed aspects of the things about which I was clearly frustrated,’ he told the committee. Pressed by Labour MP John McDonnell on the reports, Lord Geidt said: ‘It is important to consider what is going to work best in the interest, not of me, but preserving the integrity of the system and of the Code in making it work in advising the Prime Minister on holding ministers – including a prime minister – publicly to account. I don’t think there was ever a single, direct proposition in my own mind.’
Tory MP William Wragg, committee chairman and a fierce critic of Mr Johnson, said last night: ‘For the PM to lose one adviser on ministers’ interests may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose two looks like carelessness.’
Lord Geidt (pictured), Boris Johnson’s adviser on ministerial interests, hinted he thought about leaving his role due to the challenging year
A senior source said there had been no official reason provided for the ethics tsar’s shock departure, and admitted Mr Johnson was left mystified by Lord Geidt’s resignation
The Electoral Commission fined the Conservatives £17,800 for failing to properly declare almost £68,000 mostly used to pay for the refurbishment of the private quarters used by Mr Johnson, his wife Carrie and their son Wilfred. Above: The flat was designed by Lulu Lyttle in a similar style to the above
The PM previously offered a ‘humble and sincere apology’ to Lord Geidt for failing to disclose messages exchanged with a Tory donor over the £112,000 Wallpaper gate saga
Army veteran who served as Queen’s right-hand man
By Kumail Jaffer
Boris’s flat saga: a timeline
January 2020: Plans are submitted for the refurbishment of the No11 flat, a month after Mr Johnson wins 2019 election.
February 2020: Officials decide to set up a blind trust to fund the six-figure renovation. The system is designed to ensure the beneficiary is not aware of the source of the money, to prevent corruption.
May 2020: Lord Brownlow is approached to set up and then chair the trust, and agrees.
June/July 2020: The Cabinet Office, which is responsible for the Downing Street estate, pays three invoices totalling £52,801.72 for work carried out, and then bills the Conservative Party.
August 2020: The Conservatives Party pays the bill.
October 2020: Lord Brownlow emails the party and asks how much the bill is, and says he will make a donation to cover it. He does so.
November 29, 2020: Boris Johnson contacts Lord Brownlow on WhatsApp ‘asking him to authorise further, at that stage unspecified, refurbishment works’. Lord Brownlow agrees and explains that the Downing Street Trust has not yet been set up.
December 18, 2020: Lord Brownlow donates a further £33,484.80 to the firm refurbishing the flat.
February 2021: Lord Brownlow donates a further £13,295.30 to the firm refurbishing the flat, taking his total contribution to £112, 549.12
March 2021: The scale and cost of the renovations, and the way it was funded, is revealed by the Daily Mail. Boris Johnson repays the supplier personally and the firm then re-reimburses Lord Brownlow.
May 2021: Ministerial Standards watchdog Lord Geidt clears the PM of wrongdoing. He says officials assured him that Mr Johnson was not aware that Lord Brownlow paid for the work personally until it was revealed in the media. The PM also told him the same thing directly.
December 2021: The Electoral Commission fines the Conservatives Party £17,800 for failing to declare Lord Brownlow’s original donation. It reveals that he received the WhatsApp messages about money from the PM.
His highest profile role has been as the Prime Minister’s ethics adviser, but Lord Geidt has enjoyed a long and distinguished career in public service.
Christopher Geidt, 60, had a gilded upbringing, studying at private schools in Oxford and Perth before going to Cambridge University.
He later attended Sandhurst Royal Military Academy and enlisted in the Scots Guards, where he was assigned to an intelligence role.
He served in Sarajevo during the Bosnian War and his duties involved liaising with General Ratko Mladic – later convicted of war crimes.
Lord Geidt joined the Royal Household in 2002 as Assistant Private Secretary to the Queen before gaining the top job of Private Secretary, where he remained between 2007 and 2017.
In the role, he was responsible for working with senior civil servants. Geidt, the Cabinet Secretary and No 10’s Permanent Secretary were referred to as the ‘Golden Triangle’ and he helped to shape the monarch’s approach to the hung parliament of 2010.
His term at Buckingham Palace ended in 2017 after he was reportedly forced out following a power struggle with the Prince Charles and Prince Andrew.
The trio are said to have disagreed on how to manage the transfer of power from the Queen to Charles – when he eventually succeeds her – with Lord Geidt’s preference for a ‘gentle transition’ being rejected.
His 15 years of service were rewarded with a life peerage shortly after he stepped down. He was also appointed a Lord-In-Waiting in 2019.
His brief time in Downing Street – which started in April last year – thrust Geidt into the public eye.
A month after being appointed as the Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests, he published a report into the costly renovation of the flat above 11 Downing Street.
He concluded that Boris Johnson did not breach the ministerial code after allegations were made that an undisclosed loan was used to help finance the work.
However, he said it had been ‘unwise’ for Mr Johnson to proceed as he did.
Months later, he reportedly threatened to resign after the Prime Minister was accused of misleading him during his investigation into the flat scandal.
In his annual report this year, Geidt said there was a ‘legitimate question’ over whether Mr Johnson broke the code following his Partygate fine.
On Tuesday he told a parliamentary committee that resigning was ‘always on the agenda’ and that he felt ‘frustration’ over the lockdown-breaching events.
Lord Geidt, who sits as a crossbench peer, runs a farm with his wife Emma in the Outer Hebrides. They have two daughters.