Updating the ministerial code

Think tank: Institute for Government

Author(s): Tim Durrant; Dr Catherine Haddon; Jack Pannell

July 2, 2021

This report from UK think tank the Institute for Government looks at an overhaul of the rules governing ministerial standards of behaviour.

The ministerial code is not working, is being undermined by the prime minister and requires urgent reform. This report argues that Boris Johnson should fundamentally overhaul the rules which govern the standards of behaviour to which ministers are expected to adhere. Recent revelations about a lack of transparency in government, particularly around meetings with Greensill Capital, and the questions of accountability prompted by the Hancock affair make clear that more than just piecemeal updates are need. The prime minister must take this opportunity to demonstrate that he believes in upholding the highest ministerial standards in government. While Johnson says that he values high standards in government, his actions reveal otherwise. By rejecting his independent adviser’s conclusions when the home secretary was accused of bullying civil servants, and by saying he ‘considered the matter closed’ when the news of Hancock’s breach of Covid rules broke, Boris Johnson has undermined the code. While the prime minister will always be ultimately responsible for standards in government – or the lack of them – a strengthened code, with proper independent investigations, will help rebuild confidence that standards still matter.