‘That’s how it’s always worked’ Johnson’s changes will not ‘water down ministerial code

Ministerial code change: Expert discusses what it means

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The Government revision of the ministerial code of conduct has come under much criticism from opposition for suggesting resignation is not a requirement for breaches of the code.

Despite the controversy, political analyst Tim Durrant claimed the changes under Boris Johnson do not “water down” the expectations ministers are held to.

The associate director of the Institute of Government think tank claimed the adjustments to the code are “useful” as the changes clarify potential consequences for ministerial breach.

He claimed the revisions would not undermine the code as there would still be clear and appropriate punishments for ministers deemed to have acted inappropriately.

In conversation with LBC, Mr Durrant said: “Actually, the previous code and every version of the code, the only thing it said that ministers should resign for is if they knowingly mislead Parliament. 

“There has been expectations that any breach of the code results in a resignation, but that was never actually what the code said, that was just a kind of an idea that had made its way into public debate.”

The think tank associate director argued the previous versions of the code failed to outline what should be expected as a consequence for breaches other than misleading Parliament, meaning ministers were commonly called to resign over relatively minor infractions.

He continued: “It meant that when people were accused of breaking the code, people immediately called for their resignation.”

Mr Durrant celebrates the adjustments made to the code of conduct in improving the clarity of ministerial guidelines.

He said: “I actually think this change is useful, it’s a good change, because it doesn’t water down the provision that if a minister knowingly misleads Parliament, they have to resign.

“That is still in there, explicitly, as it was in the previous version.

“But the new version says, actually, there are other times when a resignation might not be appropriate and a minister might have to apologise or face a docking of their salary or something else.”

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The political analyst suggested the changes to the code would expand possible consequences for senior politicians and had not dramatically changed the expectation to resign for misleading Parliament.

Mr Durrant said: “I think that’s sensible because that’s how it’s always worked. 

“There have been cases in the past, in 2012, I believe, Baroness Warsi was found to have broken the code and David Cameron didn’t ask her to resign, he accepted that she’d done it by mistake and he accepted an apology from her.

“I think that change has just made explicit what was always the case, so I think that’s helpful.” 

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Mr Durrant referenced the historical case of Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, who was found to have breached the ministerial code on two occasions.

The first breach related to a trip to Pakistan during which Baroness Warsi failed to declare her accompanying business partner and a second related to her extension of invitation to an Eid event at Number Ten.

A report issued by civil servant Sir Alex Allen concluded the breaches of the code were minor and noted she had apologised for her actions in response to the findings.

Prime Minister at the time, David Cameron, accepted the apologies of Baroness Warsi and she was not forced to consequently resign for the breaches.

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