Boris Johnson accused of watering down rules for ministers following ‘partygate’

ITV News Political Correspondent Shehab Khan reports on the PM's move to water down the Ministerial Code

Boris Johnson has been accused of watering down the rules for ministers after it was made clear they will not automatically lose their jobs if they breach the Ministerial Code.

A government policy statement said it was “disproportionate” to expect ministers to resign or face the sack for “minor” violations of the code’s provisions.

Instead, it has been updated, giving the prime minister the option of ordering a lesser sanction such as “some form of public apology, remedial action or removal of ministerial salary for a period”.

It had previously been expected that ministers should go if they were found to have breached the code.

Why has the prime minister done this now? ITV News Political Correspondent Shehab Khan answers

At the same time, Mr Johnson has drawn back from allowing his independent adviser on the code, Lord Geidt, to mount investigations into possible violations on his own initiative.

Under his revised terms of reference, there will be an “enhanced process” to enable him to initiate inquiries, but he will still require the prime minister’s consent before going ahead.

“Reflecting the prime minister’s accountability for the conduct of the executive, it is important that a role is retained for the prime minister in decisions about investigations,” the statement said.

The changes come just days after the final report by the senior civil servant Sue Gray into lockdown parties in Downing Street led to renewed calls for Mr Johnson to resign.

Sir Bob Neill, chairman of the Commons Justice Committee, added his name to the list calling for him to resign on Friday, declaring that he did not think the Prime Minister’s explanations were “credible” for why he attended events in No10.

Separately, Alicia Kearns, a Tory MP elected during Mr Johnson’s landslide election win in 2019, said she had concluded, in the aftermath of Ms Gray’s report, that the Prime Minister had misled Parliament when he said Covid rules had been upheld in Downing StreetThe prime minister is now facing an inquiry by the Commons Privileges Committee into whether he misled Parliament into what happened.

Tory MP Paul Holmes also quit as Priti Patel’s parliamentary private secretary on Friday, saying he was “shocked and angered” by the revelations in the report.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know

Labour attacked Mr Johnson for his watering down of the Ministerial Code.

They said he had removed all references to “integrity, objectivity, accountability, transparency, honesty and leadership in the public interest” from his own foreword to the code to “save his own skin”.

Deputy Leader Angela Rayner said: “This prime mi

nister is downgrading and debasing the principles of public life before our very eyes.

“In a week when Boris Johnson’s lies to Parliament about industrial rule-breaking at the heart of government were finally exposed, he should be tendering his resignation but is instead watering down the rules to save his own skin.

“Once again, Boris Johnson has demonstrated he is not serious about his pledge to address the scandal and sleaze engulfing his government or the frequent and flagrant breaches of standards and rule-breaking that have taken place on his watch.”

Liberal Democrat chief whip Wendy Chamberlain said: “This is an appalling attempt by Boris Johnson to rig the rules to get himself off the hook.

“The prime minister shouldn’t be allowed to decide on his own punishment – with zero accountability.

“This is making him judge and jury in his own case.

“If the Privileges Committee finds Boris Johnson lied to Parliament, surely Conservative MPs will have no choice but to sack him.”