Boris Johnson Is Changing The Ministerial Code

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You might have heard today that Boris Johnson has made a few changes to the Ministerial Code

It’s being said he’s “Watering it down” in the wake of #PartyGate after being accused of breaching it multiple times

What Is The Ministerial Code & Why Is It Important?

The Ministerial Code is a code of conduct that applies to MPs in England (there’s separate code for Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland)

Written rules appeared in the 1980s because obviously MPs could be trusted completely before that date.

There was some form of code of conduct in place since the 1940s though (I assume because of the war)

The first publication to be called “Ministerial Code” was published by Tony Blair in 1997

By convention, each sitting PM releases or revises the rules when in power

This is why Johnson is able to update the rules as he sees fit without it going to a court or parliament for a reading

What Are The Elements Of The Code?

The code itself is broken down into an introduction by the current PM and then 10 sections which cover various government positions and what’s expected of them

Briefly, the sections cover:

Section 1 – MPs: How they should behave in office, conflicts of interest and not misleading parliament

Section 2 – Government: How the government as a whole should act & what happens when people leave government

Section 3 – Appointments: Guidelines regarding special advisors, private secretaries etc.

Section 4 – Departments: How departments should be structured and operate

Section 5 – Civil Service: Guidance around impartiality of the civil service

Section 6 – Constituency & Party Interests: Covers things like not using public money for election leaflets or what to do if their position is at odds with the wishes of their constituents

Section 7 – Private Interests: Guidance on financial interests, how to be neutral if they’re in a trade union, not accepting gifts if it’s a conflict of interest and how to declare gifts received

Section 8 – Presentation of Policy: Covers speeches/press appearances, that they’re not allowed to practice “regular journalism” without permission, or publishing books about their role while in office

Katy Note: thought we could force Nadine to stop writing those “books” for a minute there 🤣

Section 9 – Parliament: Oral statements must not be made to Parliament without permission from the PM and you must notify a minister beforehand if you’re going to mention them

Section 10 – Travel: Covers claiming for travel expenses, who can charter flights, who can use official cars and even what happens if you’re claiming air miles on official business

There is also an annex called “The Seven Principles Of Public Life” These come from the

Committee on Standards In Public Life and were published in 1995. They cover the basics of how ministers should behave and their attitudes while in office.

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The principles are:

  • Selflessness: ministers should act entirely in the public interest.
  • Integrity: no financial obligations should be accepted if they could undermine the minister’s position.
  • Objectivity: when making appointments, decisions should be based on merit.
  • Accountability: all public office-holders are accountable, and should co-operate with all scrutiny procedures.
  • Openness: all decisions should be justified, and information should be restricted only when necessary for the public interest.
  • Honesty: public office-holders are required, by duty, to be honest in all their dealings and business.
  • Leadership: the principles should be supported and upheld by leadership and example.

The 7 principles apply in addition to the Ministerial Code

It’s important to remember that the code and principles apply to all elected MPs in all parties, not just the party in power

And they apply for 2 years AFTER an MP has left their role

What Happens If The Code Is Breached?

The PM has accused of misleading parliament on numerous occasions over not having a gathering, then having a gathering that was within the rules, to then admitting to breaking the rules

He’s also been very misleading about employment figures, environment policy and much more on several occasions.

The wonderful @PeterStefanovi2 regularly calls Johnson out for this:

https://twitter.com/PeterStefanovi2/status/1459541907772780546

Under the old rules, breaching the ministerial code was a resignation matter

The problem is that the person who decides the code was breached is…. the Prime Minister

There have been notable controversies surrounding the code – Priti Patel was found to have “not met the high standards expected of her under the Ministerial Code” during the bullying investigation

She didn’t resign

Owen Patterson was found to have a conflict of interest having a second job for a company

that he lobbied for

His suspension was blocked by a MP vote

He eventually resigned citing he now wanted a life “outside the cruel world of politics”.

Johnson has ignored calls to resign on multiple occasions for blatant breaches of the code

And instead of resigning, he’s now rewritten the rules

Is There Any Oversight?

So what we have now is that instead of an expected resignation as a matter of course, Johnson has now introduced sanctions which include “some form of public apology, remedial action or removal of ministerial salary for a period”

The Prime Minister may also appoint a “special advisor” to investigate

Lord Geidt was appointed by Johnson to this role in April 2021

If that name’s familiar it’s because he investigated Johnson over whether he mislead parliament over the Number 11 flat refurb

Note though that it’s the PM who must call for the investigation to take place, the investigator cannot operate independently without the PMs say so.

Also, the findings don’t have to be published but the investigator can “require” them to be published in a “timely manner”

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This allows the PM to choose the best time.

Anyone get “A good day to bury bad news” vibes?

What’s unusual about all of this is that the #MinisterialCode is normally only updated at the start of an administration, not two years into it

So why has this change been made now?

If you were a cynic you would argue that it’s because Johnson is facing an investigation by

The Commons Privileges Committee to see if he misled Parliament over #PartyGate

Now the rules have been changed there’s less pressure for him to resign

But I’m sure that’s just a coincidence, right?

If you’re bored you can read the whole #MinisteralCode here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/ministerial-code/ministerial-code

Editor’s Note: This article was originally a Twitter thread. You can see all of the tweets here

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