Boris Johnson could go rogue on ethics following the resignation of Lord Geidt, who accused the PM of making a mockery of his position overseeing standards in government.
According to reports, the prime minister is considering scrapping the ethics role and will consider other “mechanisms” for enforcing the ministerial code.
Lord Geidt said he had been narrowly clinging on as ministerial interests adviser over partygate but ultimately quit after being forced into an “impossible and odious” position by the PM.
He accused Johnson of considering risking a “deliberate and purposeful breach” of his own ministerial code by potentially breaking World Trade Organisation rules over Chinese steel tariffs.
Downing Street accepted the ethics chief fulfils a “vitally important” function advising on the ministerial code but said the prime minister was reviewing the position and could abolish it.
“Quite a big mistake”
Reacting to the news, Conservative former minister John Penrose said on Friday that a failure to fill the role after Lord Geidt’s resignation in anger would leave “really quite damaging questions dangling”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think that would be potentially quite a big mistake.”
“I think one of the reasons why it’s important to have some continuity, why it’s important to have if not a precise replacement then an effective succession here, is to make sure that you don’t leave really quite damaging questions dangling and that anything that’s outstanding doesn’t just get forgotten and lost,” he added.
The MP for Weston-super-Mare resigned from the anti-corruption role last week accusing Mr Johnson of breaking the code in his response to Sue Gray’s report into lockdown-breaking parties.
On Friday, Mr Penrose added: “I just think that the Prime Minister is currently overdrawn, if I can put it that way, on his account with both the voters and with the parliamentary party. They need to show that they’re serious about this.”
Lord Evans, the chair of the standards watchdog, also warned against failing to replace Lord Geidt.
“At a time of heightened concern about standards in public life, any change to the oversight of ministerial behaviour must be stronger, not weaker, than we have now,” he wrote online.
Downing Street defended the review, insisting that the prime minister will take advice from those within No 10 as well as “others with expertise in this area”.
“And it may be that the Prime Minister decides to make a like-for-like replacement, or it might be that we set up a different body that undertakes the same functions,” a No 10 spokesman said.
“But the Prime Minister thinks it’s right to take the time to reflect on those issues which are well highlighted.”