With Lord Geidt’s role as Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests still vacant, poor Angela Rayner has lost a pen pal. For now, her days of penning dozens of pointless letters are at an end. Bad news for the politician who once managed to pump out nine complaint letters in 17 days. Appearing in the Commons chamber this afternoon, Rayner quipped that with no one to send her complaints to, all her post is being returned to sender:
“As everyone knows, I love a letter, Madame Deputy Speaker. But who should I write the requests to? There’s no ethics adviser in place to hold Tory ministers to the standards of the British public and what they expect. We all know they won’t do it themselves. Under this government, madame deputy speaker, more rule breaking is just inevitable…”
Who would’ve guessed that one man’s resignation could save so many trees?
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”.
Lord Geidt’s resignation letter has finally been published, and it’s damning. According to Geidt ,whilst he’d been able to reconcile all the previous, and widely reported, strains of his relationship with the PM, a request this week finally tipped him over the edge. Without going into detail he writes that he was “tasked to offer a view about the Government’s intention to consider measures which risk a deliberate and purposeful breach of the Ministerial Code”:
“This request has placed me in an impossible and odious position. My informal response on Monday was that you and any other Minister should justify openly your position vis-à-vis the Code in such circumstances. However, the idea that a Prime Minister might to any degree be in the business of deliberately breaching his own Code is an affront. A deliberate breach, or even an intention to do so, would be to suspend the provisions of the Code to suit a political end. This would make a mockery not only of respect for the Code but licence the suspension of its provisions in governing the conduct of Her Majesty’s Ministers. I can have no part in this.”
Boris’s reply sets out the issue was over “potential future decisions related to the Trade Remedies Authority”. In seeking to protect a “crucial industry” that would suffer material harm if the government “do not continue to apply” tariffs, the PM acknowledges that such plans would be in line with domestic law, however it may have conflicted with obligations under the World Trade Organisation. He adds “your letter came as a surprise”…
Read Geidt’s resignation letter in full below:
Details remain thin on the ground following Lord Geidt’s sudden resignation last night. Having only supposedly asked the PM to stay on for another 6 months on Monday – not to mention appearing in front of a select committee on Tuesday – his sentence-long resignation statement didn’t exactly reveal much. Downing Street are now saying he was “asked to provide advice on a commercially sensitive matter in the national interest”. All this would be much clearer if No.10 actually published Geidt’s full resignation letter…
Instead they’re keeping it so close to their chest even the Deputy Prime Minister doesn’t know what it says, or if it exists at all. Having been sent out on the media round this morning to bat for the government, the best Raab could come up with was hack-level speculation:
“It’s not clear to me at all what the reason is. There are clearly these issues around the commercially sensitive matter which he was engaged on, or asked to advise on. My understanding was that, as of earlier this week, he was hoping to stay on for another six months. He’s obviously had that grilling in front of MPs. So the risk is you’re adding one plus one and getting three.”
Raab added that No.10 will at least provide an update later today. Presumably that’s when he’ll find out what’s going on as well. Still no confirmation of whether they’ll release that letter…
UPDATE: Paymaster General Michael Ellis has confirmed Lord Geidt’s letter, and Boris’s response, will be published in full later today.
Lord Geidt has enough…
“With regret, I feel that it is right that I am resigning from my post.”
Geidt has concluded his investigation into Rishi Sunak’s interests, confirming he’s found no wrong-doing:
“Considering the [Green Card] against the specific responsibilities of the Chancellor’s ministerial offices subsequent to his first role, I do not consider that its possession would constitute an inherent conflict of interest… I advise that the requirements of the Ministerial Code have been adhered to by the Chancellor, and that he has been assiduous in meeting his obligations and in engaging with this investigation.”
Read the full response here…