The prime minister’s ethics adviser should be given the power to launch investigations and have the final say on whether ministers have breached their code of conduct, an independent review of government standards has recommended, seven months after Boris Johnson’s adviser resigned when his bullying finding against Priti Patel was rejected..
But the Committee on Standards in Public Life said the PM should retain the power to decide the punishment for erring colleagues – and should have the option not to sack them.
The report also recommended a ban of up to five years on ex-ministers taking on jobs lobbying government after leaving office, in the wake of the scandal surrounding David Cameron’s persistent texts and emails to senior members of the Boris Johnson administration on behalf of collapsed finance firm Greensill.
And it said that government transparency rules should be updated to include modern forms of communication – noting that the current rules meant that Mr Cameron’s WhatsApp messages did not have to be disclosed in the regular published list of ministers’ contacts with lobbyists.
Mr Johnson’s former independent adviser on ministerial interests, Sir Alex Allan, quit in November after the PM cleared Ms Patel from his report’s finding that she bullied Home Office staff.
His replacement Christopher Geidt has been given a new power to recommend the launch of an inquiry into a minister’s behaviour, but – like his predecessors in the post – must wait for the green light from the PM to launch an investigation.
The CPSL’s new recommendations, which are not binding on Mr Johnson, would see Lord Geidt initiating investigations on his own authority and making a final decision on innocence or guilt – something which is currently in the gift of the PM alone.
However, the committee’s report said that the PM should be given a graduated range of sanctions for breaking the ministerial code, moving away from the current system where breaches inevitably spell dismissal or resignation. And it said the final decision on whether a minister should keep his or her job should stay with the prime minister.