Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner has accused Liz Truss of allowing sleaze to “fester” at the heart of her government by failing to appoint an independent ethics adviser a month after taking over from Boris Johnson.
Ms Rayner wrote to the prime minister’s most senior civil servant, cabinet secretary Simon Case, to urge him to open inquiries into a trio of questions over ethics within government raised since Ms Truss entered Downing Street.
She said that the events of the past month suggested that Ms Truss’s administration was “no better” than the one led by Mr Johnson, showing “scant regard for standards in public office”.
In her letter, seen by The Independent, Ms Rayner asked for assurances that allegations relating to Ms Truss’s adviser Mark Fullbrook, chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng and Treasury minister Chris Philp were being “thoroughly investigated” in the absence of an Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests, who would normally be responsible for such an inquiry.
The call comes after The Independent revealed that Ms Truss accepted help during her leadership campaign form a former minister who had reached a financial settlement with a woman after being accused of sexual harassment.
During the leadership campaign, the PM dismissed calls to appoint an ethics adviser, saying that she knew “the difference between right and wrong”.
The most recent No 10 ethics adviser, Lord Geidt, resigned in June in protest at Mr Johnson’s willingness to consider measures which would breach the ministerial code. His predecessor Sir Alex Allan quit in 2020 when Johnson overruled his finding that then home secretary Priti Patel had bullied staff.
Ms Rayner said: “A month into her premiership, the prime minister has failed to fill the ethical void at the heart of Downing Street left by her predecessor.
“Liz Truss’s failure to appoint an independent ethics adviser has shown that instead of turning the page on years of Tory sleaze, this prime minister is allowing it to fester on her watch.
“Labour will clean up politics by establishing an Independent Ethics and Integrity Commission to restore standards in public life.”
Ms Rayner told the cabinet secretary that the four-month absence of an adviser to enforce the ministerial code “cannot be a sustainable state of affairs”.
She demanded confirmation that an inquiry had been opened into the decision to allow Mr Fullbrook and two other No 10 advisers to be paid by his PR company Fullbrook Strategies, rather than by the government.
“The public deserve answers on how and why this was allowed to happen and what sensitive and privileged information No 10’s on-loan lobbyists may have had access to at the heart of government,” she said.
She asked Mr Case to look into questions of “propriety” raised by Mr Kwarteng’s attendance at a drinks party with City financiers on the evening of his mini-Budget.
She urged him to establish whether any guests at the party were provided with privileged information which might have allowed them to profit from the subsequent crash in the financial markets.
“A thorough investigation is now required into whether market sensitive insider information has been improperly exchanged to enable Tory donors and hedge funders to profiteer,” she said.
And she called on Mr Case to take action to “shed light” on the decision that Treasury chief secretary Chris Philp should be kept out of discussions on planning and housing issues because of his own property interests.
“The chancellor’s effective deputy still retains ministerial responsibilities for housing and planning policy despite retaining lucrative property interests,” said Ms Rayner. “It is now incumbent on Downing Street to explain what action has been taken to prevent such a naked conflict of interest that could affect government decision-making.”
Ms Rayner told the cabinet secretary that in the absence of an independent ethics adviser, it fell to him to inquire into any conflicts of interest or breaches of the ministerial code.
“There is a clear pattern of behaviour developing at the heart of this government which must be stamped out,” she said. “Tory ministers are governing in the interests of the richest one per cent, leaving working families to carry the can for their mistakes.
“Public trust is already hanging by a thread and this cabinet must be held accountable.”