Lord Geidt indicates he wants power to launch investigations independently in wake of flat row

Lord Geidt has indicated he wants the power to independently launch investigations into potential rule breaches by ministers in the wake of the Downing Street flat row.

The Prime Minister’s ethics tsar said he expected to wield “considerably greater authority, independence and effect” in a letter published by a Parliamentary committee of MPs.

He also reiterated that the latest controversy over the refurbishment of Boris Johnson’s grace and favour home had resulted from officials showing him “insufficient care”, adding that the “episode shook my confidence.”

His latest comments come a week after Lord Geidt rebuked Number 10 for failing to disclose a key exchange between Mr Johnson and a Tory peer who funded the makeover of the Number 11 flat.

The independent adviser was left on the brink of resignation in December last year when the Electoral Commission unearthed new exchanges between Mr Johnson and Lord Brownlow of Shurlock Row in which they discussed the funding of the renovations.

WhatsApp messages between the Prime Minister and Lord Brownlow

Credit: Independent Adviser on Ministers' Interests/PA

These messages, sent in November 2020, were not disclosed to Lord Geidt when he exonerated Mr Johnson of wrongdoing in an earlier inquiry and called into question the Prime Minister’s claim he “knew nothing” of the payments until February last year.

While accepting Mr Johnson’s apology, Lord Geidt accused officials of failing to keep him informed and made clear that he believed his powers should be expanded to restore public confidence.

On Tuesday, Lord Geidt appeared to elaborate further, signalling in a letter sent to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) that he expected these changes to include being given the autonomy to launch investigations into alleged rule breaches by ministers.

Currently the independent adviser is required to seek the authorisation of the Prime Minister before launching a probe.

However, sleaze campaigners argue that this amounts to the Prime Minister “marking his own homework”, with the Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL) recommending that this requirement should be removed to give the adviser true independence.

Asked by William Wragg, the chair of the committee, whether he agreed with the proposal, Lord Geidt wrote: “As I wrote in my letter of 23 December, I would expect by the time of my next Annual Report in April to be able to describe the role of Independent Adviser in terms of considerably greater authority, independence and effect, consistent with the ambitions for the office that the Prime Minister has set out.”

‘Role not taken seriously’

It came as Lord Evans of Weadale, the chairman of the CSPL, questioned whether the failure by the Prime Minister to hand over the messages to Lord Geidt had been deliberate.

Asked about the controversy during a Parliament committee hearing, he told MPs: “I think it is absolutely transparent and crystal clear from the exchange of letters last week that the independent adviser did not feel that he had been well served by those people who had been providing him with information.

“And whether that was deliberate or whether it was careless, people can make their own judgment, and no doubt do.

“But it is absolutely clear that the independent adviser feels the role has not been taken as seriously as it needs to be, and I expect in the light of that exchange of letters that it will be taken more seriously in future, and I think that is a positive step.”

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