Boris Johnson changes rules to allow ministers to avoid resign

Boris Johnson changes rules to allow ministers to avoid resign

Boris Johnson is changing the rules to allow ministers to avoid resigning if they break the ministerial code, allowing them to apologise or temporarily lose their pay.

The prime minister, who is facing accusations of breaching the code, released a policy statement on Friday, saying it was disproportionate to expect that a breach, however minor, would lead to resignation or dismissal. A new version of the ministerial code has been published, suggesting that in future ministers could face an apology, remedial action or removal of ministerial salary for a period if they retain the confidence of the prime minister.

After a slew of complaints about ministers conduct from Labour and the Liberal Democrats, one of the reasons for changing the rules is to avoid incentives for trivial or vexatious complaints.

Johnson faces an investigation by the privileges committee into whether he misled Parliament by saying there were no parties in No 10 during the lock-in and that rules were followed at all times.

The ministerial code states that it is a resignation matter if a minister misleads the House of Commons.

If Johnson is found to have breached other principles of public life, such as lack of openness and honesty, then the changes to the rules make it less likely that he would be expected to resign.

Under changes to the guidance, Johnson also rejected the idea that his independent adviser should have the power to launch investigations into ministers or prime ministers without his permission.

The adviser, currently Christopher Geidt, will be able to instigate investigations but only with the consent of the prime minister, who will retain the power to block an inquiry. In such a case, the adviser would have the power to make the situation public.

Nick Timothy, a former adviser to Theresa May, said if any Tory MPs are labouring under the impression that the PM might listen, learn or change, amending the ministerial code so he won't quit when he breaks it ought to be clinch the argument. The Lib Dem chief whip, Wendy Chamberlain, said it was an appalling attempt by Boris Johnson to rig the rules to get himself off the hook. She said the Conservatives have learned nothing from the Owen Paterson scandal, but the suspension that the government tried to block was a ploy by the MP who breached the MPs code of conduct.

The prime minister shouldn't be allowed to decide on his own punishment with zero accountability. This is making him a judge and jury in his own case. If the privileges committee finds Boris Johnson lying to Parliament, Conservative MPs will have no choice but to sack him.