The Prime Minister’s ethics adviser resigned after being asked to approve tariffs on steel which the government itself acknowledges would break part of a World Trade Organisation treaty.
Lord Geidt resigned last night, and in his letter to the Prime Minister said he was “tasked to offer a view about the Government’s intention to consider measures which risk a deliberate and purposeful breach of the ministerial code,” leaving him in an “impossible and odious position.”
City A.M. understands that Geidt was asked for his advice on a continuation of tariffs on imported steel which the independent Trade Remedies Authority (TRA) – an arms-length government body tasked with monitoring unfair trade and so-called ‘dumping’ – said as long ago as last year no longer had any legal or economic grounds.
The TRA had told government in June of last year that it should revoke existing tariffs on nine categories of steel. In six of those categories, there was no increase in imports to the UK, meaning that the measures could not be extended under law. In three other categories, the increase in imports was “not significant enough” to warrant tariffs.
However key figures including the Prime Minister, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng and then-Downing Street chief of staff Dan Rosenfield chose to override the TRA’s decision with emergency legislation which extended the tariffs for one more year.
City A.M. understands those figures chose to extend those nine tariffs because if the UK relaxed them but the European Union did not follow suit, it was feared the UK would become the destination of choice for those categories.
Lord Geidt, who took the job of ethics adviser in April of last year, was not consulted last year, though City A.M. understands that because of the focus on ministerial code issues currently in the aftermath of the partygate affair, he was asked for his view this time around.
That legislation was supported by the Labour party, who described the TRA’s original decision as “deeply disappointing.”
Lord Geidt was asked by the Prime Minister to advise on whether those tariffs could be extended for an additional year, which appears to be the trigger for his resignation as to do so would knowingly break clauses in a WTO treaty – a breach of the ministerial code.
The Trade Remedies Authority was set up by former Trade Secretary Liam Fox as a brake on unintended consequences of free trade, the idea being to allow a government body to mitigate the impacts of dumping or where particularly low-cost goods were undermining local markets whilst maintaining public support for international trade.
City A.M. understands there has been significant grumbling within the TRA at the decision last year, with the body’s ability to act independently constrained.