All the cabinet ministers that broke the ministerial code 2 months ago

All the cabinet ministers that broke the ministerial code

Downing Street has rejected a report that wants to introduce greater scrutiny of ministers; is it because so many of the cabinet have broken it?

The Committee on Standards in Public Life, an advisory watchdog that promotes higher ethical standards, has proposed introducing an independent advisor to initiate investigations and determine breaches of the ministerial code.

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The recommendation formed part of a sweeping review into Westminster. Among nine other recommendations, it found rules governing the conduct of ministers needed to be toughened up and described transparency around lobbying was "poor".

It proposed major changes around the ministerial code of conduct, of which Prime Minster Boris Johnson is the ultimate arbiter.

Downing Street rejected the recommendations to give more powers to his ethics advisor.

Why wouldn't the Prime Minister want a sleaze watchdog to be given greater power over the ministerial code?

Maybe it's because so many of his ministers love to break it.

Home Secretary Priti Patel

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In November 2020, Boris Johnson's advisor on the ministerial code resigned after the Prime Minister refused to sack Home Secretary Priti Patel.

Veteran civil servant Sir Alex Allen found Patel's "approach on occasions has amounted to behaviour that can be described as bullying in terms of the impact felt by individuals", concluding the Home Secretary had broken the ministerial code.

Ministers are normally expected to resign if they break the code.

According to Johnson, Patel gave a "fulsome apology" where she said "there are no excuses" for her conduct, admitting: "I've clearly upset people."

The Prime Minister, who decides the consequences of such reports, rejected the findings and Patel was allowed to stay on in her role.

Sir Alex announced his resignation after the prime minister released his statement on the report's conclusions.

Former Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson

This one had consequences.

While serving as Secretary of State for Defence under former PM Theresa May, Gavin Williamson was found to have leaked plans to allow Chinese company Huawei to help build the UK's 5G network.

Williamson was found not in breach of the Official Secrets Act or law on misconduct but lost the confidence of the Prime Minister.

Critics believed he broke the ministerial code.

He was sacked but returned to the cabinet under Boris Johnson as Education Secretary.

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Home Secretary Priti Patel (AGAIN)

Of course, this wasn’t the only time Patel was found to have broken the ministerial code.

During an official trip to Africa in 2017, she held unauthorised meetings with Israeli politicians, including prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Patel briefed the press that the Israel a trip was merely a "holiday" - but it was later revealed she'd discussed the idea of giving the country British foreign aid cash with Israeli officials.

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This would be in breach of the ministerial code.

Patel was summoned to Downing Street, where she resigned as International Development Secretary (presumably before Theresa May had the chance to let her go).

Former Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick

In November of 2019, government minister Robert Jenrick found himself sat next to Tory donor Richard Desmond at a Conservative fundraising dinner.

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By total coincidence, documents later emerged showing Jenrick had “insisted” a planning decision for a £1bn property development should be rushed through. A decision that saved Desmond £45m.

The timeline was so coincidental, Jenrick even acknowledged he was being lobbied in text messages to Desmond.

One such text, responding to an invitation to meet, read: “Richard. As secretary of state it is important not to give any appearance of being influenced by applicants of cases that I may have a role in or to have predetermined them and so I think it is best if we don’t meet until the matter has been decided".

The ministerial code states: “Ministers must ensure that no conflict arises, or appears to arise, between their public duties and their private interests”.

Anyway the Prime Minister decided against any immediate consequences, although Jenrick was reshuffled out of Johnson's cabinet in September 2021.

Eat Out to Help Out - Chancellor Rishi Sunak

The government ethics watchdog was asked to assess whether the Chancellor breached the ministerial code by not declaring his wealth in the register of ministerial interests. 

Sunak had failed to declare a multimillion-pound portfolio of shares held by his wife and her family.

Ministers are required to register company shares and ownerships in order not to create a conflict of interest. 

HM Treasury said Sunak had made a full declaration of his wife’s interests to senior civil servants before a decision was taken on what to include in the list.

In a letter from Labour MP Tonia Antoniazzi to the chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life shared with The Independent, Antoniazzi said the code of conduct states that ministers should provide a list of interests of their spouse or  partner and close family "which might be thought to give rise to a conflict".

No consequences, yet.

Do bad things come in threes? Here's Priti yet again

Last month, Patel was accused of breaking the ministerial code - again - after it was revealed she arranged high level talks at Heathrow between a billionaire Tory donor and British Airways.

The meeting took place without a Home Office official present, an alleged breach of the ministerial code.

The high level talks took place at Heathrow Airport’s Hilton Garden Inn, the hotel is part of a chain owned by Patel’s friend, Surinder Arora.

The arrangement mirrored the 2017 incident that forced her resignation.

At the time, Labour Deputy Leader Angela Rayner said: “The Home Secretary is a serial offender with no regard for the ministerial code. It’s time the Prime Minister took away her get out of jail free card.

"This secret lobbying lunch breaks the rules and she has serious questions to answer."

Reader: there were no consequences.

The man himself: Boris Johnson

In May, the purveyor of the ministerial code faced calls to resign after it was suggested he himself broke it.

The Prime Minister took on a lavish refurbishment of his flat above Number 11 Downing Street. The redesign made headlines after confusion arose regarding who exactly was paying for it.

It later emerged multimillionaire Lord Brownlow donated £58,000 to the Conservative Party.

A number of inquiries, including from the Electoral Commission, were launched into whether any donations were properly declared.

Eventually, Johnson's independent ethics advisor concluded the PM acted “unwisely” in the handling of his flat refurbishment but found no breach of the ministerial code.

But it does beg the question, if he's the ultimate arbitrator: would he have sacked himself?

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