British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s top ethics advisor said he had quit after the government forced him into an “impossible and odious” position, according to a letter released on Thursday.
Christopher Geidt is the second official to quit the role in two years in protest at Johnson’s actions. His resignation on Wednesday came after the prime minister was enmeshed in the “Partygate” scandal, which saw him receive a police fine.
Lord Geidt had stayed on despite expressing unease over the lockdown-breaching parties in Downing Street. Johnson’s office said it was “surprised” at his decision to step down now.
In his resignation letter to Johnson — quickly dubbed “Geidtgate” — the former official said the final straw came when he was asked to advise on “a deliberate and purposeful breach of the ministerial code” by the government on an unspecified issue.
“This request has placed me in an impossible and odious position,” he wrote.
“I can have no part in this,” added Geidt, who had previously cleared Johnson over another scandal related to who paid for a lavish redecoration of his Downing Street flat.
Ministers refused to be drawn on the specifics of the row but trade experts said it related to a ruling by other officials that the government could no longer justify its tariffs on Chinese steel.
In his letter of response, Johnson said he had sought Geidt’s “advice on the national interest in protecting a crucial industry” through retaliatory trade tariffs.
The industry was not identified and Johnson said the government believed its proposed measure would comply with UK law.
But it “might be seen to conflict” with the UK’s obligations under the World Trade Organization, the prime minister noted in seeking Geidt’s counsel.
Johnson last week narrowly survived a vote of no confidence by Conservative MPs in the House of Commons over the “Partygate” affair.
His party critics returned to the fray on Thursday after the exit of Geidt, who is a former private secretary to Queen Elizabeth II and was personally appointed by Johnson himself.
Paraphrasing the playwright Oscar Wilde, Tory MP William Wragg said in parliament: “For the PM to lose one adviser on ministers’ interests may be regarded as misfortune. To lose two looks like carelessness.”