Labour seeks to ensure Johnson quickly appoints new ethics adviser

Labour will pile pressure on Boris Johnson to speedily replace his ethics adviser by launching an attempt to ensure the role is effectively filled within two months – or a potentially more hostile candidate is installed.

The party came up with the “backstop” plan to ensure Johnson does not evade scrutiny after Downing Street refused to commit to replacing Christopher Geidt, who stepped down last week over alleged breaches of the ministerial code by the prime minister.

Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, will say that if the role is not filled by 16 August, then a parliamentary committee chaired by a Tory MP who has been deeply critical of Johnson should be able to appoint somebody to effectively carry out its duties.

The adviser on ministerial interests would report to the public administration and constitutional affairs committee (Pacac), and be given powers to launch their own investigations into breaches of the ministerial code, ask the committee to demand documents and call witnesses, and produce a final report.

Those who refuse to comply with the request of the committee could be held in contempt of parliament.

A Tory MP said: “Ahead of the vote of confidence, the prime minister promised my fellow Conservative MPs he would change, and enough of them believed him. If he chooses not to replace Lord Geidt, this shows them just how little his promises are worth.”

Given the move would create a new position within the House of Commons rather than the government, Labour sources were confident the motion would be binding if passed during an opposition day debate on Tuesday.

William Wragg, the Tory MP who chairs Pacac, has previously called for Johnson to quit after the Partygate scandal.

Given Johnson’s 80-seat majority, it is likely government whips would have the numbers to vote it down.

Many MPs are also expected to be away from Westminster on Tuesday, given rail strikes and a final push by campaigners ahead of the two byelections being held on Thursday in Wakefield, and Tiverton and Honiton.

Labour sources believe Tory MPs will be ordered to vote against the motion and that Downing Street will argue Johnson should not face potential further inquiries while he is still being investigated by the privileges committee over allegedly misleading parliament.

But one said: “If the government decide to ignore our motion, it’s an admission they can’t order their side to vote against it.”

Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, said Johnson had left an “ethical vacuum” in Downing Street and that No 10 should be put into “special measures to prevent this prime minister running roughshod over the rules, dodging accountability, and degrading standards in public life”.

She added that while the “sleaze-ridden” prime minister was being “propped up in office” by Conservative MPs, the proposal would ensure that a cross-party group of MPs was given powers to “step in and monitor this rogue prime minister’s behaviour until a new, genuinely independent adviser is confirmed”.

Rayner said that as well as replacing Geidt, the government’s ethics adviser should also have their powers significantly enhanced.

Geidt stood down last week after accusing Johnson of trying to break the ministerial code, which No 10 said was over steel tariffs that may have breached World Trade Organization rules.

But Geidt then claimed the reason given by Downing Street for his departure was a “distraction” and the steel issue was “simply one example of what might yet constitute deliberate breaches by the United Kingdom of its obligations under international law”.

It was reported over the weekend that Geidt had been due to meet two Tory MPs at the centre of a complaint he was adjudicating on the day he quit. Nusrat Ghani alleged her “Muslimness” was raised when she was removed from a ministerial job in 2020, and said she was told it was “making colleagues uncomfortable”.

Mark Spencer, the then chief whip, identified himself as the member of the government who spoke to Ghani, but said the accusations were “completely false and I consider them to be defamatory”.

Geidt’s report into the investigation remains unpublished, and the Liberal Democrats have called for Johnson to ensure it is released.

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