The preface to Sir Christopher Geidt’s annual report is a masterpiece of establishment prose. I offer a translation below.
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He said: “This is my second Annual Report as Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests. It is issued alongside my third publication of the List of Ministers’ Interests, which I am pleased to have restored to their regular cycle. This report is also the first to be published on a new dedicated online presence for the office of the Independent Adviser and supported by dedicated staff, under my supervision. I have also had cause to provide formal advice to the Prime Minister on two occasions, and that advice has been published in a timely manner. At the time of writing, a further investigation is nearing the stages of completion.”
He meant: Most of your critics in the country, Parliament and the media believe that I let you off the hook over donations to refurbish the Downing Street flat, should have quit, get nothing from you – and am an establishment patsy. But I demanded and got that new online facility and staff. So sucks to them.
He said: “In the period under review, the Prime Minister has now implemented a number of changes to the office of Independent Adviser. These include amended Terms of Reference which were published on 27 May 2022. In a letter of 23 December 2021 to the Prime Minister, I wrote that, ‘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’. This correspondence with the Prime Minister followed the discovery of material relevant to my initial investigation into the refurbishment of the private accommodation at 11 Downing Street that had not originally been disclosed to me. The Annual Report considers the matter in detail.”
He meant: “In addition to demanding new support I also demanded new powers – and told you that I wanted the whole bang shoot done and dusted by April.”
He said: “In the event, I was unable to publish my Annual Report last month as the Government had not yet published its amendments. Instead, I resolved to publish in any event during the month of May, one calendar year on from my original report. Now that the Government has issued its Policy Statement in the past few days, I have reflected on those changes to my Terms of Reference and other aspects of the Prime Minister’s undertaking last December. Again, these are covered in detail in the Annual Report.”
He meant: “I’m doing my best to show my critics that I’m the big swinging dick around here, but you keep monkeying me around – which is why this report’s a month late.”
He said: “Granting the Independent Adviser an independent right to initiate inquiries into ministerial conduct has been called for over many years. The changes now offered by the Government are at a low level of ambition. Nevertheless, given the new provision for greater transparency in the event of a Prime Minister intervening to prevent an independently-initiated inquiry from proceeding, I believe that under normal circumstances this would be a workable scheme. The grounds for refusal by a Prime Minister would need to pass a very high standard, such as national security. Even then, an Independent Adviser would now generally be able publish the reasons for a Prime Minister’s refusal.”
He meant: “I want powers to initiate investigations into you. You won’t give me even half the loaf. But I’m making the best of as much of it as you’ve said you’ll give me.”
He said: “The circumstances of the period covered by my report, however, have been far from normal. For much of the year, the conduct of the Prime Minister himself has potentially been subject to consideration against the requirements of the Code. Accordingly, and whether unfairly or not, an impression has developed that the Prime Minister may be unwilling to have his own conduct judged against the Code’s obligations. The test for the credibility of these new arrangements is whether they are sufficient to command public trust in the independence of the Independent Adviser. This must be accompanied by a willingness of those subject to the Code, including the Prime Minister, to justify their conduct – in the light of the provisions of the Code – to Parliament and to the public. For example, this may be an explanation of how they believe that their behaviour is consistent with the Code, or an acknowledgement and explanation of why they have fallen short of its standards.
He meant: “As I say, your critics believe that I’m an establishment patsy. I keep trying to show them that I’m not. To do so, I need a lot more help from you.”
He said: “It may be especially difficult to inspire that trust in the Ministerial Code if any Prime Minister, whose code it is, declines to refer to it. In the case of the Fixed Penalty Notice recently issued to and paid by the Prime Minister, a legitimate question has arisen as to whether those facts alone might have constituted a breach of the overarching duty within the Ministerial Code of complying with the law. It may be that the Prime Minister considers that no such breach of his Ministerial Code has occurred. In that case, I believe a Prime Minister should respond accordingly, setting out his case in public.”
He meant: “I specifically asked you to say that you didn’t breach the code (if that’s what you’re set on claiming) in your response to Gray’s report. Which you duly didn’t do – so giving my critics yet more ammo, which further gets my goat.”
He said: “This matters to the integrity of the Independent Adviser who, otherwise, might until recently have had to seek a Prime Minister’s consent to make inquiries into a Prime Minister’s conduct. In the present circumstances, I have attempted to avoid the Independent Adviser offering advice to a Prime Minister about a Prime Minister’s obligations under his own Ministerial Code. If a Prime Minister’s judgement is that there is nothing to investigate or no case to answer, he would be bound to reject any such advice, thus forcing the resignation of the Independent Adviser.”
He meant: “You’re playing with fire, sonny. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that because I’m a gent you can mess me around in the way you messed your beaks at Eton around – and everyone else since. I can have your balls for breakfast.”
He said: “Such a circular process could only risk placing the Ministerial Code in a place of ridicule. Instead, and since the point when the inquiries by the Cabinet Secretary (later conducted by the Second Permanent Secretary) and the Metropolitan Police were embarked upon, I have repeatedly counselled the Prime Minister’s official and political advisers that the Prime Minister should be ready to offer public comment on his obligations under the Ministerial Code, even if he has judged himself not to be in breach. This has been my standing advice, which I was assured had been conveyed to the Prime Minister. Its purpose has simply been to ensure that the Prime Minister should publicly be seen to take responsibility for his own conduct under his own Ministerial Code. That advice has not been heeded and, in relation to the allegations about unlawful gatherings in Downing Street, the Prime Minister has made not a single public reference to the Ministerial Code.”
He meant: “My resignation letter is drafted. Do you feel lucky, punk?”
He said: The Independent Adviser is neither the author nor the guardian of the Ministerial Code. Those roles properly belong to the Prime Minister. Nevertheless, it is reasonable for the Independent Adviser, consistent with his own obligations to uphold the Seven Principles of Public Life, to promote the integrity of the Ministerial Code and ensure that its provisions are applied fairly and transparently. I have set out my advice accordingly.
He meant: “You, sir, are not a gentleman.”