Are there some things that the government should not be able to do?

7:00 a.m. June 17, 2022

Oscar Wilde coined the phrase “To lose one may be considered misfortune, to lose two seems careless” in The Importance of Being Earnest.

At the time, he was referring to parents, but now it appears he could also have been referring to the prime minister’s ethics advisers.

After a tumultuous year of dealing with possible transgressions, Lord Geidt finally wrote a letter offering his resignation on Wednesday.

He is the second ministerial interest adviser to resign during Johnson’s three years in office, after Sir Alex Allan emptied his desk in November 2020.

Sir Alex resigned after the prime minister ignored a report he had written which said Priti Patel had breached the ministerial code, including unintentionally, through behavior that could be considered bullying.

But Lord Geidt, who said he had only credibly clung to the role of ministerial interest adviser “by a very small margin” after partygate, was, according to his resignation letter, pushed over the edge when he was tasked with offering a hearing. . on the “intention of the government to consider measures that risk a deliberate and deliberate violation of the ministerial code”.

Lord Geidt wrote: “This request has placed me in an impossible and hateful position.”

He added that the idea that the Prime Minister “could be in the business of deliberately violating his own code is an affront” that he would suspend the code “to serve a political purpose.”

“This would make a mockery not only of respect for the code, but would authorize the suspension of its provisions in governing the conduct of Her Majesty’s ministers,” Lord Geidt wrote.

“I can’t have a part in this.”

This questionable move is believed to be related to the maintenance of tariffs on Chinese steel despite the possibility of violating World Trade Organization (WTO) commitments.

Downing Street declined to confirm what the request referred to, saying only that the Prime Minister’s intention was to seek Lord Geidt’s “advice on the national interest in protecting a crucial industry”.

The prime minister’s official spokesman added that the role of ministerial interest adviser was “critically important” but that the prime minister was considering whether to directly replace Lord Geidt.

Instead, he said, Boris Johnson wanted to “carefully consider” the issues raised by Lord Geidt “before making a decision on how best to deliver on that commitment to ensure rigorous oversight and scrutiny of ministerial interests”.

But if it’s not someone who directly oversees the government, then what?

Earlier this week, after judges at the European Court of Human Rights blocked government plans to relocate asylum seekers to Rwanda, Downing Street did not rule out withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Suella Braverman, the attorney general, said many people would be frustrated by the role played by a “foreign court” in stopping the government’s plan.

He was half right. The court itself, of course, is based in Strasbourg.

But the laws it enforced were devised at the behest of Winston Churchill.

In the late 1950s, the ECHR was written to do two things in relation to two authoritarian regimes. One was to prevent a repetition of the horrors perpetrated by the Nazi regime during World War II. And two was to try to stop the advance of Stalinism from the USSR.

None of these seem objectionable then or now.

Both the example of the European Court of Human Rights and the resignation of Lord Geidt raise questions about what exactly a government should and should not be allowed to do. And who should be allowed to override, and who shouldn’t.

In the United States, those questions have been asked most clearly in connection with revelations about Donald Trump’s months-long campaign through the courts and corridors of Washington to try to cling to power after losing the November 2020 election. This culminated in the attack on the Capitol building on January 6, 2021. Five people were killed.

In this country, we are not in the same situation yet, nor do I expect that we will ever get there. But recent events have made me uncomfortable.

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