20 Apr Why Boris Johnson must stay out of decisions about investigating ministers for sleaze
VERY government seems to have its moment of business sleaze.
From Tony Blair’s love-in with Formula 1 and tobacco to cash-for-questions under John Major, they find it impossible to balance private sector influence with public sector responsibility.
The Greensill furore seems little different, and, as always, numerous reviews have been launched into how badly David Cameron and his former political colleagues erred.
One question arising today is whether Boris Johnson should be allowed to decide which ministers should be investigated for breaching Whitehall rules.
It seems obvious such a partisan figure as a Prime Minister should not.
The government’s new adviser on ministerial interests should be free from political interference and make the final call.
This should be the case anyway, but particularly with the current PM, whose chumocracy with certain private sector contacts has unfairly poisoned the public’s trust of business.
And especially with a PM who, as one FTSE chairman reminded me, ignored the rules when it came to his own private sector work.
After leaving as foreign secretary in 2018, Johnson quickly began penning his big money column for the Daily Telegraph without first seeking permission from the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba).
The first Acoba knew was when the paper began advertising it.
The committee chief Baroness Browning furiously told him that this was “unacceptable”.
Particularly, she said, because he signed up to the Acoba rules when he became a minister and his chief civil servant wrote to remind him of them when he quit. (Boris claimed that letter came too late).
We need Westminster to work with business to get things done. But the relationship has to be scrupulously managed by independent officials.
When wrongdoing is alleged, politicians like Boris can’t be judge and jury.