Entire UK government breaks ministerial code by failing to declare interests

This article is republished from Open Democracy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.

Rishi Sunak’s failure to appoint ethics adviser means ministers are unable to comply with twice-yearly requirement

Seth Thévoz close-up

Seth Thévoz

1 December 2022, 1.00am

The entire British government appears to have broken its own ministerial code by failing to declare any conflicts of interest since May.

It is now six months since the UK government last published what is supposed to be its twice-yearly List of Ministers’ Interests, detailing outside interests and dealings for each minister. But Rishi Sunak’s government has been unable even to begin this work, which takes weeks, after failing to appoint the ethics adviser whose job it is to oversee the regime.

It leaves open the possibility that there are scores of undeclared interests held by government ministers.

This is despite Rishi Sunak having promised in July that “I definitely will reappoint an independent ethics adviser and it will be one of the first things I do” on becoming prime minister. He has so far made at least 125 other appointments in government.

Cabinet Office minister Jeremy Quin said more than a month ago: “It is absolutely the prime minister’s intention to appoint an independent adviser,” while Sunak’s spokesperson claimed five weeks ago that it would be “done shortly”.

This sort of government-wide breach of the Ministerial Code has happened just once before – under Boris Johnson – in a situation described at the time by former parliamentary commissioner for standards Sir Alistair Graham as “all pretty scandalous” and “dreadful”.

The Ministerial Code promises that “a statement covering relevant ministers’ interests will be published twice yearly”. Under previous ethics advisers, including the most recent, this has been interpreted as meaning that they are to be released six months apart.

Two resignations

Much of the chaos stems from the UK government’s last two ethics advisers having both resigned under Boris Johnson.

The first, Alex Allan, quit in November 2020, after Johnson refused to uphold Allan’s advice and sack Priti Patel over bullying allegations.

Johnson eventually appointed Christopher Geidt as his new ethics adviser in April 2021 – after dragging his feet over replacing Allan.

On taking up the post, Geidt wrote: “It is my firm intention that the twice yearly publication should now be resumed and maintained, as envisaged in the code.” He then published up-to-date Lists of Ministers’ Interests in May 2021November 2021, and May 2022.

But Geidt quit in June, after Boris Johnson “placed me in an impossible and odious position”, asking Geidt to approve the breaking of international law by advising on a plan to extend tariffs on steel imports that may have gone against World Trade Organization rules. Geidt said that Johnson was “in the business of deliberately breaching his own code”.

Threat

While all MPs and peers have to sign a Register of Members’ Interests in parliament, the reporting requirements for that are more lax than the strict standards applied to ministers in the Ministerial Code.

But the lack of an ethics adviser causes other problems. Dave Penman, secretary general of the civil service union the FDA, last month highlighted the threat it poses to public servants and whistleblowers: “If a civil servant has a complaint to make about a minister, the lack of a written process is only half the problem, as the lack of someone to even investigate it is a bigger hurdle.”

Deputy prime minister Dominic Raab is currently the subject of “multiple” complaints of bullying from civil servants, with Sunak having had to ask a lawyer to lead an investigation that would usually have been the job of the ethics adviser.

Earlier this week, it emerged that “several” candidates had reportedly all declined the ethics job, with Labour’s Angela Rayner suggesting it was “a poisoned chalice”.

At the heart of the reported reasons for the role being turned down are its limited powers – and Sunak’s refusal to change the terms of reference.

Lord Evans, chair of the committee on standards in public life, has strongly criticised the way that the job – which reports directly to the prime minister – effectively gives the prime minister a veto over which ministers are investigated. Prime ministers are also free to disregard advice from the adviser, as happened in Patel’s bullying case

A Downing Street spokesperson said: “The prime minister committed in the summer to [appoint an ethics adviser], as well as when he became prime minister. Recruitment is underway and we want to appoint as quickly as possible.” They added that “work is happening at pace”.

This article is republished from Open Democracy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.

Continue ReadingEntire UK government breaks ministerial code by failing to declare interests

Governments and fossil fuel companies accelerate fecking the planet

The Guardian has a very disturbing article reporting it’s research that it’s full speed ahead for climate destroying governments and fossil fuel companies and that there is no regard for the climate destruction that they are causing. It’s also bad news that there was no mention of the climate in the UK’s Queen’s Speech (the UK government giving notice of it’s intentions) other than harsher laws against climate protestors. Kwasi Kwarteng has already said as much – that the UK is aggressively pursuing exploitation of fossil fuels disregarding climate concerns “… we took steps to remove obstacles to accelerate production …”.

I find it difficult to understand how these people are so determined to feck the planet tbh. I know that they are Capitalists and mad Tories but is logic and reason totally alien to them? Don’t they care for their own children and grandchildren? I suppose that they can get into the habit of just following orders but just following orders has been dismissed as a defence.

We have to defeat these cnuts but have very little time to do it …

Continue ReadingGovernments and fossil fuel companies accelerate fecking the planet

2020 was worst year on record for UK government secrecy

https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/freedom-of-information/2020-was-worst-year-on-record-for-uk-government-secrecy

openDemocracy has an exclusive report exposing the depth of the government’s attack on the Freedom of Information Act

Last year was the worst on record for government secrecy, new research by openDemocracy has revealed.

Just 41% of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests sent to government departments and agencies were granted in full in 2020, down from 43% the previous year.

This is the lowest figure since records began in 2005.

The findings are published in openDemocracy’s new report, ‘Access Denied’, which exposes the extent of the government’s attack on FOI.

It follows a major investigation by openDemocracy last year, which revealed how a secretive Cabinet Office unit called the ‘Clearing House’ vetted sensitive requests for information.

A judge subsequently criticised the government for a “profound lack of transparency” that might “extend to ministers”.

parliamentary inquiry into the Clearing House – launched by the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee in the wake of openDemocracy’s revelations – opens this week.

The Access Denied report also finds that some government departments have far lower FOI disclosure rates than others, with the Cabinet Office among the worst offenders, along with the Foreign Office and the Department for International Trade.

Transparency campaigners say “urgent action is required” and that there needs to be a “sea change in attitudes towards FOI within Whitehall to avoid it spiralling it into an accountability black hole”.

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Continue Reading2020 was worst year on record for UK government secrecy

Cameron, Clegg and Ed sneak in a snoopers’ charter by the back door

A snoopers’ charter by the backdoor: One day until Drip is forced through

by Ian Dunt

Privacy campaigners are frantically trying to brief MPs about the implications of the data retention and investigatory powers bill (Drip), before it is forced through all of its Commons stages tomorrow.

The more experts look at the bill, the more convinced they’ve become that it provides authorities with the spine of the snoopers’ charter, but without any of the public debate or parliamentary scrutiny which were supposed to accompany it.

The charter – known as the draft communications bill before it was killed off – would have forced internet service providers and mobile operators to keep details of their customers’ behaviour for 12 months.

Analysis of Drip, which was supposed to only extend the government’s current powers for another two years, suggests it forces through many of those requirements on internet firms without any of the political outrage which derailed the earlier effort.

Clause four of the bill appears to extend Ripa – the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (basically Britain’s Patriot Act) – so that the UK government can impose severe penalties on companies overseas that refuse to comply with interception warrants. It also lays out situations in which they may be required to maintain permanent interception capacity.

Clause five then provides a new definition of “telecommunications service”, which includes companies offering internet-based services. That seems to drag services like Gmail and Hotmail into the law, and very probably social media sites like Facebook too.

The government insists the extraterritoriality clause merely makes explicit what was previously implicit. It’s tosh. As the explanatory notes for the legislation – released very quietly on Friday night – make clear, overseas telecommunications companies did not believe they were necessarily under Ripa’s jurisdiction.

“Regarding the amendments to Ripa, in view of the suggestion by overseas telecommunications service providers that the extra-territorial effect of Ripa is unclear, it is considered necessary to amend the legislation to put the issue beyond doubt,” it reads.

“This includes clarifying the definition of a ‘telecommunications service’ to ensure the full range of telecommunications services available to customers in the United Kingdom are included in the definition.”

David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband insist Drip merely extends their current powers for two years. That’s nonsense. These two clauses, which have nothing to do with the purported aim of the bill, provide the spine of the snoopers’ charter.

They also appear to provide a legal basis for programmes like Tempora, the project revealed by Edward Snowden to allow GCHQ to tap into transatlantic fibre-optic cables and stored data.

Notably, Privacy International, Liberty and others are taking the government to a tribunal this week on whether Tempora is legal, even though the government won’t even admit its existence. Drip could make the tribunal ruling irrelevant.

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Continue ReadingCameron, Clegg and Ed sneak in a snoopers’ charter by the back door