Despite both Lord Geidt’s resignation letter and the PM’s response being published, the specifics behind the ethics adviser’s decision to quit remain broadly unanswered by both documents. Boris’s letter goes the furthest, specifying Geidt had been asked to look into a “potential future decision related to the Trade Remedies Authority” (TRA), which while “in line with our domestic law… might be seen to conflict with our obligations under the [World Trade Organisation]. With further details emerging, it now looks like Geidt’s decision is not only confusing, it takes the wind out of Labour’s sails…
In 2021 the TRA issued advice to then-Trade Secretary Liz Truss to drop tariffs on certain types of steel. While Truss was initially in favour of complying with the TRA advice, opposition from Cabinet – spearheaded by Kwasi Kwarteng – eventually meant the government deciding to go against it.
As Boris said, while this would be uncontroversial at home, it may have clashed with WTO rules. As reported at the time, rolling over the EU safeguarding measures without an investigation, according to some respondents to the TRA’s review, would be “incompatible with World Trade Organisation rules”. The great irony here is that the minister in charge of TRA policy is none other than Boris’s chief ministerial dissenter Penny Mordaunt, who by extension has now unintentionally caused Geidt to quit.
The specifics behind Geidt’s resignation also create a headache for Labour, who have been revelling in the news since last night. In 2021 Labour responded to the TRA’s recommendation to withdraw steel safeguards by saying the government “must instead accept Labour’s offer to work together in the national interest and come forward with emergency legislation, which we will support, to amend the regulations and allow Britain’s steel safeguards to be maintained in full.”
Before these details emerged, it was speculated that Geidt had been asked to investigate an issue relating to a conflict of interest. Even following the publication of both letters, Robert Peston tweeted “the only conclusion to be drawn is that Geidt was asked to sanction tariffs being imposed to help companies with connections to the Conservative Party or ministers.”
The only conclusion to be drawn is that Geidt was asked to sanction tariffs being imposed to help companies with connections to the Conservative Party or ministers.— Robert Peston (@Peston) June 16, 2022
It now appears not only was this not the only conclusion one could draw, it was an incorrect one. Government sources tell Jim Pickard that Geidt “never” mentioned potential conflicts regarding Tory donors in his conversations and texts about this with the PM. A government source describes Peston’s flawed conclusion slightly more bluntly to Guido, as a “deranged falsehood”.