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Boris Johnson: former PM committed ‘clear breach’ of rules with timing of Daily Mail role, says watchdog – UK politics live | Politics

Boris Johnson: former PM committed ‘clear breach’ of rules with timing of Daily Mail role, says watchdog – UK politics live | Politics

Johnson has committed ‘clear breach’ of Whitehall business appointment rules, says Acoba

The advisory committee on business appointments (Acoba), the body that is supposed to rule on what jobs former minsters and officials can take when they leave office to avoid any conflict of interest, has criticised Boris Johnson for failing to comply with its rules.

For two years after leaving office, former ministers are meant to seek advice from Acoba before starting a new job. They are also meant to follow Acoba’s advice about what is and is not appropiate.

But Johnson did not consult Acoba before finalising his new job with the Daily Mail. He only got in touch 30 minutes before his appointment was announced, Acoba has revealed. A spokesperson for the committee said:

The ministerial code states that ministers must ensure that no new appointments are announced, or taken up, before the committee has been able to provide its advice.
An application received 30 mins before an appointment is announced is a clear breach.
We have written to Mr Johnson for an explanation and will publish correspondence in due course, in line with our policy of transparency.

But Johnson will not face any penalty for not consulting Acoba earlier. It cannot block former ministers from starting new jobs, and there are no sanctions it can impose on them either. This is why, as a watchdog, it is considered toothless.

Acoba is chaired by the former Tory cabinet minister Eric Pickles.

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The acoba rules are supposed primarily to stop companies being able to benefit commercially from government insider knowledge. But the Daily Mail has hired Johnson as a celebrity politician and journalist, and not for his commercial insight, and so Johnson might argue there is no conflict of interest anyway.

As PM Johnson did go to remarkable lengths to curry favour with the Daily Mail, even trying to get its editor-in-chief, Paul Dacre, installed as chair of Ofcom. His new job could be seen as pay-back for this, and Acoba says one reason for its rules is to stop ministers being “influenced by the hope or expectation of future employment with a particular firm or organisation”.

However Conservative politicians, and some Labour ones, have always tried to keep the Mail on side. It would be hard to show that the expectation of personal gain, rather than the expectation of favourable coverage, was the main explanation for Johnson’s indulgence towards Dacre and his editors.

Updated at 10.51 EDT

Key events

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The Conservative MP Tim Loughton told Times Radio that he thought “many” Tory MPs would vote for the privileges committee report into Boris Johnson. He said:

We voted to set up this committee, we voted for the chair of the committee, so we need to support its work whether or not people like the outcome.
It’s a legitimate committee of the house and it’s a pretty damning report. It’s very sad end into Boris Johnson’s parliamentary career, but he’s brought it upon himself and he’s decided rather than to stand his ground and argue his case, he’s decided to fly outside of parliament as he resigned last week.
So I can’t see any option but for people to vote for this and to vote against it, I think, would just be crazy.

With the pro-Johnson Tories now set to abstain (see 11.47am and 12.46pm), instead of voting against the report, it looks as if there might not even be a division. Instead, on Monday the motion approving the report may just go through on the nod.

Updated at 09.28 EDT
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Rhun ap Iorwerth appointed as leader of Plaid Cymru

Rhun ap Iorwerth has been announced as the new leader of Plaid Cymru and faces the tough job of getting the party back on track after a misogyny and harassment scandal, Steven Morris reports.

Daily Mail confirms that Boris Johnson will be joining the paper as a columnist

The Daily Mail has confirmed that Boris Johnson will be joining the paper as a columnist, starting tomorrow.

In a video posted on Twitter, he says it will be “completely unexpurgated stuff”. But he jokes about covering politics “as little as possible”, implying it won’t be entirely Westminster focused.

📰 We are delighted to announce Boris Johnson as our new columnist

Famed as one of the wittiest and most original writers in the business, Boris’s column will appear in the Daily Mail every Saturday and you’ll be able to get a preview on MailOnline and The Mail+ on Fridays pic.twitter.com/76uETBRmnF

— Daily Mail Online (@MailOnline) June 16, 2023

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He also says the column is going to be “exactly what I think”.

This may present a challenge. In their excellent book Johnson at 10, Anthony Seldon and Raymond Newell say that one of the many problems Johnson had as a prime minister was that he kept changing his mind. They quote one official as saying:

He wildly oscillated in what he thought. In one day he would have three meetings in which he would say three completely different things depending on who was present, and then deny that he had changed his position. It became difficult when he took a decision to know whether it would hold, and how much importance to give it, because so often he changed his mind, even on Covid.

Updated at 08.17 EDT

James Duddridge confirms pro-Johnson Tories won’t vote against privileges report, saying ‘people just want to move on’

Sir James Duddridge, the former parliamentary private secretary to Boris Johnson, has gone public with a version of a message from the former PM to his supporters this morning, urging them not to vote against the privileges committee report. (See 11.47am.) He has told Politico that “people just want to move on”. This is from Politico’s Emilio Casalicchio.

🚨 SCOOP: Seems Boris supporters might be willing to let the privileges report lie.

Former BoJo PPS @JamesDuddridge expects no vote — i.e. no dissent to report so it gets nodded through.

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Tells me: “I don’t think there is going to be a vote. I think people just want to move on.”

— Emilio Casalicchio (@e_casalicchio) June 16, 2023

Updated at 08.16 EDT

No 10 says government won’t be endorsing Johnson report, or taking view, because it’s matter for individual MPs

No 10 has said that the government will not be taking a view on the privileges committee report into Boris Johnson, because it is a matter for individual MPs.

Rishi Sunak did not express a view on the matter yesterday. He gave an interview earlier yesterday morning, before the report was published, when he said he had not read it. Asked if he would give another interview later when he had read it, he was evasive.

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This morning a No 10 spokesperson said Sunak had still not had time to read the report properly. He said:

[The PM] was in meetings all yesterday and continues to have meetings today. So he hasn’t fully had time to consider the report …
The prime minister takes these processes very seriously, which is why he intends to take the time to study the report closely.

But the spokesperson said Sunak would not be endorsing the report on behalf of the government because the vote was a matter for individual MPs (there is a free vote). He said:

The prime minister doesn’t think it’s appropriate to express a government view or a view on behalf of the government given that it’s a matter for individual MPs and MPs have a free vote on this on Monday.

The spokesperson also declined to say whether Sunak would be present for the vote on Monday.

Sunak is in a quandary because, if he were to endorse the report, he would infuriate Johnson’s supporters among the Conservative party membership and (more importantly, from No 10’s perspective) in the Tory media. He might upset some Tory MPs too, thought probably not very many.

But if Sunak were to criticise the report, he would be undermining the privileges committee process, and he would allow the opposition to associate him with Johnson’s lying and rule breaking.

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It is normal for MPs to get a free vote on motions endorsing recommendations from the standards committee or the privileges committee, because these are seen as House of Commons matters, not party political matters. But the recommendations normally have widespread support, which means ministers are usually happy to say they are in favour.

Updated at 08.20 EDT

Acoba, Whitehall appointments watchdog, says Johnson has not yet consulted it about taking Daily Mail job

Henry Dyer

Boris Johnson’s attitude towards the rules is continuing in his usual manner, if this morning’s reports (see 9.24am) that he is to join the Daily Mail as its “erudite new columnist” said to be on a “very high six-figure sum” are accurate.

Until September 2024, Johnson is required under government rules to seek advice from the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba) before taking up any new roles.

But this morning, Acoba told the Guardian that it had not received an application from the former prime minister and would be writing to him on the matter.

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Johnson has previously faced censure from Acoba for failing to seek advice from the committee before joining the Telegraph, then on a salary of £275,000, after he resigned as Theresa May’s foreign secretary.

New rules introduced after work carried out during Johnson’s premiership mean Acoba is consulted as part of the propriety checks on those nominated for honours and peerages, to examine if those in line for gongs have studiously sought Acoba’s advice in line with the rules. These new rules don’t apply, however, to those who made the nominations in the first place.

Updated at 08.22 EDT

Boris Johnson privately urging supporters not to vote against privileges committee report, arguing it has ‘no practical effect’

According to the Times’ Steven Swinford, Boris Johnson is urging his supporters not to vote against the privileges committee report into his conduct.

Boris Johnson is telling supporters not to oppose Privileges Committee report in Commons next week

He says he ‘wants to move on’ and that he doesn’t see it as having any practical effects

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— Steven Swinford (@Steven_Swinford) June 16, 2023

Yes, that is the same report that Johnson denounced yesterday as “a load of complete tripe” and part of a “protracted political assassination”.

A source in the Johnson camp has confirmed that Swinford’s tweet is correct, arguing that the vote has “no practical effect” anyway.

As discussed yesterday, there is better reason for Johnson not wanting a division on the motion on Monday night; his support in the Conservative parliamentary party is now very limited, and a division might expose just how diminished the Johnsonite faction has become. Only a handful or so of Tory MPs have publicly said they want to vote against the report. When Johnson last led a parliamentary rebellion, over the Windsor framework, only 21 other Tories voted with him. Perhaps there are a few more who might back him this time.

But they would be defending a politician unpopular with the public at large, and there is a real risk that, if there were a division, Johnson could end up with fewer Tories voting against disciplinary action against him than the 32 who voted against the ex-SNP MP Margaret Ferrier being suspended. Having less support among Conservatives than a Scottish nationalist would not be a good look.

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Also, the government whips will be delighted if there is no division. Perhaps Johnson wants to repair relations with No 10 a bit.

The Johnson source is wrong to say the motion will have no practical effect. If passed, it will result in Johnson not being entitled to the normal pass issued to an ex-MP giving them access to the parliamentary estate.

But Johnson had not been spending much time in parliament anyway. He is not being banned from the estate; he can always come in as a guest of someone. With the Daily Mail set to announce him as a columnist (see 9.24am), perhaps he might even apply for a press pass. I’m sure we could find a desk for him in the gallery.

Updated at 08.23 EDT

Yesterday Douglas Ross, the Scottish Conservative leader, said he backed the privileges committee report into Boris Johnson. But that is not enough for the SNP. Mhairi Black, its deputy leader at Westminster, says Ross should whip all Scottish Tory MPs to vote to approve the report. In a statement she says:

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Douglas Ross must finally grow a backbone and whip his MPs to vote for tough sanctions against his disgraced former leader Boris Johnson.

Drivers at two train operators will take industrial action in disputes separate to the ongoing national row over pay, PA Media reports. PA says:

Members of Aslef at Avanti West Coast will strike on 2 July, while drivers employed by London North Eastern Railway (LNER) will refuse to work overtime from July 1 until further notice.
Aslef said the dispute with Avanti West Coast is over sick pay changes, which the company is accused of trying to “force through without agreement”.
LNER is accused of failing to adhere to “agreed procedures”.
Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan said: “It is deeply regrettable that Aslef members have been forced to take this action but our members will not stand by and allow our agreed terms and conditions to be violated by the train operating companies.
“We have been coming to the table to try to resolve these disputes for many months but unless the operators honour the agreements in place with our members, we will be forced to continue taking action.”

Boris Johnson supporter Jake Berry accuses privileges committee of trying to stifle criticism, saying it’s ‘disgrace’

Sir Jake Berry, the Conservative party chair when Liz Truss was prime minister and a Boris Johnson supporter, told ITV’s Good Morning Britain this morning that he would “certainly” be voting against the privileges committee report on Monday. Explaining why, he said:

I think both the conclusions and, to some extent, the way the committee was made up in terms of this report are wrong.

Berry also said he was concerned about the way the committee was trying to close down criticism of its decisions. He said:

For the first time in my parliamentary career, I’m afraid to talk about a report or the findings of a committee of parliament, because they have threatened MPs that if they do so, they themselves will be subject to the sorts of sanctions.
It’s an attack on free speech. It’s an absolute disgrace and it rather begs the question that if the committee is so certain and so happy with their findings, why are they trying to stop any debate on this, to gag MPs and prevent them talking about it.

Berry was referring to a passage in the committee’s report yesterday saying it would be publishing a follow-up report dealing with MPs, and others, who have sought to undermine the inquiry into Johnson. It said it was concerned about “a sustained attempt, seemingly coordinated, to undermine the committee’s credibility and, more worryingly, that of those members serving on it”.

This has led to Berry, and other Johnsonites, thinking or saying that they are at risk of being sanctioned for expressing any criticism of the committee’s report.

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The committee itself has not said what criticism is, and is not, legitimate. But it is not hard to work out roughly what it will say when it publishes its follow-up report. MPs are always free to criticise the findings of committees, including disciplinary committees like the privileges ones. But what it problematic is to impute bad faith. In other words, it is okay to say the committee got it wrong; but to say it got it wrong because it is biased or a kangaroo court etc, could take an MP into contempt of parliament territory.

Much more serious were the threats directed at MPs serving on the committee. At one point Conservative Post, an obscure Tory website linked to the pro-Johnsonite Conservative Democratic Organisation, was urging its readers to write to the Tory members of the privileges committee telling them to stand down from the inquiry. There was an implicit hint they were at risk of deselection if they didn’t. Trying to intimidate members of a Commons committee carrying out an inquiry definitely counts as a contempt of parliament, and it is this sort of conduct that the follow-up report is likely to deprecate strongly.

Jake Berry.
Jake Berry. Photograph: Danny Lawson/PA

‘End of the road for Johnson’: what papers say about privileges committee report

This is from Jonathan Yerushalmy, who has been looking at how the papers have been covering the privileges committee report into Boris Johnson.

Green says it is ‘difficult’ to see how Johnson could be allowed to stand as Tory candidate again

In his Today programme interview Damian Green, the Tory former first secretary of state, also suggested that Boris Johnson should not be allowed to stand as a candidate for the party again.

Asked if he would be in favour of that, Green replied:

I think it will be quite difficult …
I think if he had been more temperate in his response [to the privileges committee report], it would be easier for him to have a way back into active politics. But he’s chosen to use phrases like ‘kangaroo court’” and “witch hunt”, and described the report as deranged, and that inevitably puts into question the integrity of people who have great integrity, the people who sit on the committee.

This is also contention because Johnson’s supporters would react with fury if Rishi Sunak were to declare that Johnson could not be a candidate again. In the Mail on Sunday at the weekend Jacob Rees-Mogg, the former business secretary and prominent Johnson cheerleader, wrote:

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I would most strongly warn Conservative party managers against any attempt to block Boris if he seeks the party nomination in another seat.
Any attempt to do so would shatter our fragile party unity and plunge the Conservatives into civil war.

Sunak probably has no intention of allowing Johnson to stand as a candidate again at or before the general election, but he is unlikely to say this publicly, at least in the near future. It is one of those questions that can be dismissed as hypothetical.

Damian Green being interviewed in Westminster last year.
Damian Green being interviewed in Westminster last year. Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian
Updated at 06.17 EDT

Damian Green says Rishi Sunak, and other Tories, should vote to back privileges committee report into Boris Johnson

Good morning. Boris Johnson is out of parliament, but Conservative party attempts to consign him to history don’t seem to be working out too well and this morning Politico reports that he is indeed the mystery “erudite” columnist who will start writing for the Daily Mail tomorrow.

This is not good news for Rishi Sunak. The Mail is the most powerful voice in the Tory media ecosystem, and Johnson is someone whose best hopes of a political comeback depend on Sunak failing. When he was writing a weekly Daily Telegraph column before becoming PM, Johnson was paid £275,000 a year. Being at No 10 for three years has increased his earnings power considerably, and according to Politico he is being paid a “very high six-figure sum” for the Mail gig. At least someone did well out of the Johnson premiership.

The Conservative party is now preoccupied by the debate on the Johnson privileges committee report on Monday, and the issue of how MPs will vote on the motion to approve its conclusions and recommendations. Tory MPs will be on a one-line whip, which means attendance is voluntary, and it is assumed that most of them will stay away, and let it get approved on opposition votes. Yesterday No 10 refused to say whether Sunak would be in the Commons on Monday, and it is widely assumed that he will discover a pressing engagement in his diary that makes him unable to attend.

But this morning Damian Green, a former first secretary of state, told the Today programme that Sunak, and other Tory MPs, should vote in favour of the report instead of abstaining, because it was important to support the privileges committee process. He said:

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At the moment I intend to vote for it because I think it’s important that parliament respects its own systems. We have set up this committee, asked them to do this very serious report, they’ve come up with what is clearly a fairly damning set of conclusions, and I think if we, as parliament, run away from that, then it calls into question whether we should carry on having this kind of self regulation or whether it shouldn’t all be outsourced to other people. And that would be a very serious step.

Asked if that meant it was important for Sunak to vote for the report, Green said that every MP would have to make up their own mind and he conceded that the PM was the “busiest” of all MPs. But he also said:

I think, personally, it’s such an important act that deliberately abstaining is not really rising to the importance of the occasion.
Clearly, it is very, very unusual, if not unique, to have this kind of report on a former prime minister.

As Peter Walker and Sammy Gecsoyler report, Johnson’s supporters are threatening to try to deselect Tories who do follow Green’s advice and back the report.

Here is the agenda for the day.

10am: Prof Sir Michael Marmot and Prof Clare Bambra, who are both public health experts, give evidence to the Covid inquiry. At 2pm Katharine Hammond former director of the civil contingencies secretariat at the Cabinet Office, will give evidence.

11.30pm: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.

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12pm: Plaid Cymru holds a press conference to announce where Rhun ap Iorwerth is due to be confirmed as its new leader.

If you want to contact me, do try the “send us a message” feature. You’ll see it just below the byline – on the left of the screen, if you are reading on a PC or a laptop. This is for people who want to message me directly. I find it very useful when people message to point out errors (even typos – no mistake is too small to correct). Often I find your questions very interesting too. I can’t promise to reply to them all, but I will try to reply to as many as I can, either in the comments below the line, privately (if you leave an email address and that seems more appropriate), or in the main blog, if I think it is a topic of wide interest.

Updated at 06.24 EDT

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Andrew Sparrow

Published: 2023-06-16 15:51:37

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