Boris Johnson is under mounting pressure to release the letter from Lord Christopher Geidt explaining why he quit as ethics adviser to the prime minister.
The government published a terse statement on Wednesday night announcing that the adviser was stepping down from the role, without explaining his reasons for doing so.
However Geidt, a former private secretary to the Queen, is understood to have written a full letter explaining why he was quitting after only 14 months — which ministers have so far refused to publish.
A government spokesman suggested on Wednesday night that Geidt had quit over a “commercially sensitive” issue on which he had been asked to adjudicate.
“This week, the independent adviser was asked to provide advice on a commercially sensitive matter in the national interest, which has previously had cross-party support,” he said. “No decision had been taken pending that advice.”
The opposition Labour party has been granted an urgent question in the House of Commons on the issue on Thursday.
Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, said it was unusual for the government not to publish an exchange of letters offering reasons for the resignation. “We need to see Geidt’s resignation letter, there can be no good reason for cover-up,” she said.
Chris Bryant, chair of parliament’s committee on standards, said: “The government must publish Lord Geidt’s letter today.”
Dominic Raab, deputy prime minister, told the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme that he could not discuss the letter because he had not seen it. He suggested that a more detailed explanation would be forthcoming from Downing Street later in the day.
Raab said that earlier this week Geidt was in discussions about staying in his role for another six months. “So I don’t know and you don’t know the personal circumstances or those issues and I don’t really want to speculate on that,” he said. “But there’ll be a further update by Number 10 today and all I can go on, like you, is the rather short statement that he’s already given.”
Lord Geidt is the second ethics adviser to quit under Johnson’s premiership and did so a day after expressing his “frustration” over the “partygate” affair in which gatherings in Downing Street broke Covid-19 restrictions.
Geidt’s resignation caught the government by surprise and his departure will raise further questions over Johnson’s conduct and overall standards in his administration. The departure comes a week after he survived a confidence vote among Tory MPs by 211 votes to 148.
The adviser said this week it was “reasonable” to conclude the prime minister had breached the ministerial code over Covid-19 lockdown parties.
Geidt’s predecessor, Sir Alex Allan, quit in November 2020 after Johnson failed to act after he published a critical report on alleged bullying by Priti Patel, home secretary.
The adviser was recruited by Johnson in April 2021 and lasted little over a year in the job.
Geidt’s first task was to investigate the financing of Johnson’s refurbishment of his Number 10 flat. He was criticised for not being thorough enough in probing the prime minister’s claim that he was unaware that financing was coming from a Tory donor.
Questioned by the Commons public administration committee on Tuesday, Geidt acknowledged: “How can I defeat the impression that it’s a cosy, insufficiently independent relationship? It’s very hard. But I’m trying my best to work with what I’ve got.”
He described himself as an “an asset of the prime minister . . . rather than a free-orbiting adviser”, even though he felt Johnson had given him new powers to initiate his own investigations.
Geidt had said it was “reasonable” to suggest Johnson may have breached the ministerial code when he was fined during the partygate scandal. He told MPs the “ordinary man or woman” might have concluded Johnson had breached the code, given he had received a fixed-penalty notice. The code requires ministers to comply with the law.