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Reuters
boris johnson june 15.JPG
Reuters
UK News

Christian ethics expert says ‘no one is demanding perfection’ but is seriously concerned about PM’s ethical track record

by Tola Mbakwe

A Christian expert in ethics has said there is reason for great concern about Prime Minister Boris Johnson losing two ethics advisers within two years.

Lord Geidt quit his role on Wednesday without giving any reason. On Thursday Downing Street published his resignation letter which said he felt he was put in an “impossible and odious” position over a plan that would “deliberately and purposefully breach the ministerial code”.

In the letter he described the fact that the Prime Minister would “be in the business of deliberately breaching his own code” as an “affront”.

Rev Andrew Goddard, a tutor in Christian Ethics at Westminster Theological Centre told Premier ethics is an integral part of politics and is worried that Downing Street appears to be struggling with it.

“We have a very long tradition of public service that people are in public office in order not to serve themselves or their friends and make benefits for themselves or those close to them, but to serve the people,” Rev Goddard said.

“And ethics and public life is to enable those sorts of things to be secure, because they are under threat in different places. And the concern now is that they are under threat in this country in a way they haven't been before.”

It was Lord Geidt’s responsibility to advise Mr Johnson on matters relating to the ministerial code of conduct. But last month he said Johnson must explain why he thought he had not broken the ministerial code after being fined over attending a party during the COVID-19 national lockdown.

The government said it was surprised by Geidt's decision.

"Whilst we are disappointed, we thank Lord Geidt for his public service. We will appoint a new adviser in due course," a government spokesperson said.

Andy Flanagan, executive director of Christians in Politics also believed there are reasons to worry over the Prime Minister’s ethics. He said the ministerial code is extremely important in guiding those who work for the government.

“It talks about the seven principles that you should adhere to in public life. And this is a really good sort of train track for ethics. It says ministers should be selfless, they should have integrity, they should have objectivity, they should be accountable, there should be openness, there should be honesty, and there should be leadership.

“It says it is right from the top that people need to illustrate these ethics and illustrate these principles. Otherwise, other people within government won't follow them. So it actually speaks about the need for this to happen from the top. And one can only imagine that somebody who is trying to enforce those, if they feel like folks at the heart of the government don't have an interest in enforcing those or have another agenda, I can imagine why somebody would want to leave their job and not be associated with that.”

Lord Geidt, the Queen's Private Secretary for 10 years until 2017, was appointed by Johnson in April 2021. The previous holder of the role resigned in 2020 in protest at Johnson's support for a minister who was found to have broken the code.

Labour Party Deputy Leader Angela Rayner said: “The Prime Minister has now driven both of his own hand-picked ethics advisers to resign in despair. If even they can't defend his conduct in office, how can anyone believe he is fit to govern.”

Geidt last year called for his role to have greater authority and independence, but when the government updated the ministerial code last month it said that, while he could now initiate an investigation, he was still required to consult the prime minister.

He had also previously criticised the fact that an exchange of messages had not been disclosed to him when investigating who funded a costly refurbishment of Johnson's Downing Street flat.

While Rev Goddard said he is very concerned about the Prime Minister’s track record, he isn’t expecting perfection.

“The fact that there is this pattern and that over time, we have now had these two resignations suggest that there are more serious questions here of lack of concern for good conduct and upholding the standard. We expect to have those in leadership and politics.

“None of us can live a perfectly ethical life, and no one is demanding absolute perfection. That's not what's being asked”.

He added: “We want things that will enable people to trust those in power, we want integrity, we want objectivity. We want honesty. And in order to have that happen, we have people who can advise on those because sometimes it's not clear what that looks like. It's a complex situation. That's why it's important to have people who provide expert objective neutral advice in these areas, and why it's a concern, when those who have that task feel they are not able to fulfil it properly any longer."

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