However, Boris Johnson’s new foreword to the code – altered so that “minor” breaches are no longer a resigning matter – made an extraordinary change.
In his 2019 version, he wrote: “The precious principles of public life enshrined in this document – integrity, objectivity, accountability, transparency, honesty and leadership in the public interest – must be honoured at all times...”
However, the new foreword, released shortly after publication of Sue Gray’s full Partygate report, removed these words.
In what is now almost entirely a political statement, the code is mentioned just once: “Thirty years after it was first published, the Ministerial Code continues to fulfil its purpose, guiding my ministers on how they should act and arrange their affairs.” Johnson then adds: “As the leader of Her Majesty’s Government, my accountability is to Parliament and, via the ballot box, to the British people.”
It is not explicit, but by choosing to remove the idea that the Seven Principles of Public Life “must be honoured at all times”, he suggests he thinks that is no longer the case.
We hope this was not his intention. If not, it would be a simple matter to restore the lost sentence.
However, given Johnson’s long track record for dishonesty, it seems entirely in keeping with his character that standards of acceptable behaviour in high office need to be watered down. How long he will be allowed to do so is a matter for Conservative MPs – at least until the next general election.