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28 June 2021

Rule-breaking ministers who did not resign under Boris Johnson

Matt Hancock may have stood down, but others who acted unlawfully or may have breached the ministerial code are still in post.

By Anoosh Chakelian

After being caught breaking social distancing rules with his aide Gina Coladangelo, Matt Hancock has resigned as health secretary. This is despite Boris Johnson previously standing by him and suggesting that he could return to public office in future. In fact, a number of other ministers have avoided resignation or sacking under Johnson’s prime ministership. Here they are:

Gavin Williamson

Last November, the Court of Appeal ruled that the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson acted unlawfully by removing safeguards for children in care at the start of the pandemic without consulting children’s rights organisations.

[See also: Gavin Williamson, Matt Hancock and Michael Gove acted unlawfully during Covid-19 – what happens next?]

This ruling came on top of the debacle over exam results last summer, when schoolchildren in England were plunged into stress and uncertainty over being downgraded by a since discredited “algorithm”.

[See also: The schools scandal]

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On top of this, the repeated political wrangling over free school meals threatening to leave children hungry over the holidays and the lack of devices for poorer children to learn from home when schools were closed led to the Labour party calling for his resignation in January.

Since then, the government’s adviser on the catch-up plan for pupils quit over the government agreeing to spend just £1.4bn on trying to fix the learning gap – rather than the £15bn he calculated was necessary.

Michael Gove

On 9 June, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove was found to have broken the law by awarding a £560,000 contract to a communications company called Public First, which is run by associates of himself and Dominic Cummings – a decision tainted by “apparent bias and was unlawful”, according to the High Court ruling.

His department was also condemned in June by the Information Rights Tribunal for a “profound lack of transparency” in a ruling over Freedom of Information “blacklisting” claims, by running a secretive “clearing house” unit circulating FoI requests from journalists.

Robert Jenrick

The Housing Secretary accepted in May 2020 that his fast-tracked approval of the Westferry housing development in east London – helping a Tory party donor avoid paying £45m – was unlawful.

Though rejecting claims of any actual bias in his behaviour, Jenrick had overridden Tower Hamlets Council and the government’s own planning officials in granting permission for the housing project – one day before a community infrastructure levy of £45m would have been owed by the developer to the local area.

[See also: “Marxist doe”: The money at the heart of the Robert Jenrick planning row]

Two weeks after the scheme was approved, records from the Electoral Commission showed that Richard Desmond – the former Express newspaper owner who was pursuing the development – donated £12,000 to the Conservatives.

“We appreciate the speed as we don’t want to give Marxists loads of doe for nothing! [sic],” read a text from Desmond to Jenrick. The two had exchanged messages after sitting together a fundraiser – something Jenrick later said he regretted.

Priti Patel

Last November, an inquiry found that the Home Secretary had broke the ministerial code by bullying Whitehall staff. The Prime Minister decided not to act on its findings, despite the independent investigator Alex Allan advising that she had fallen below the standards of her office.

***

While not a minister, the Prime Minister’s former chief adviser Dominic Cummings was also allowed to remain in his role despite breaking lockdown rules on his infamous trip to Durham during the first lockdown last year.

[See also: Boris Johnson’s refusal to sack Matt Hancock showed his contempt for accountability]

[Hear more on the New Statesman podcast]