Over the past few years, the list of abuses of power by the Johnson government has become clear. Ministers have given away lucrative contracts to friends and donors, repeatedly broken the code that is meant to govern them, and transgressed the law on several occasions.
This compendium should be a resource to track their misconduct. Click the links below to find the relevant minister, or scroll down to read them all.
This compendium is a start, but we’ll keep on building on it. If you have any suggestions of what we could add, email us at email@example.com with your suggestion and a source for evidence to support it.
Nadine Dorries is secretary of state for digital, culture, media, and sports
Amazingly, Nadine Dorries has done nothing to merit her a place on the Compendium of Cabinet Codebreakers
We have very strict criteria for what merits a place on this list, which is:
- Potential or confirmed breaches of the ministerial code while minister.
- Public money wasted while minister.
- Potentially of confirmed breaches of the law while minister.
Dorries may have compared gay marriage to incest, made arguably racist comments, and admitted to her own blog as an MP being 70 percent fiction, but none of these comments quite meet the criteria provided!
Oliver Dowden is a minister without portfolio, and co-chair of the Conservative Party
Oliver Dowden has misspent £2m of public money as minister
A report by the public accounts committee found that £2m of public money was spent on consultants to give support to the arts “with no clear reason”. The report also said that ministers have no information on where more than £100m of £500m in lifeline grants to charities, voluntary groups and social enterprises is actually being used.
Michael Gove is secretary of state for housing, communities, and local government
Gove has potentially breached the ministerial code three times.
It has been revealed that Michael Gove misused covid emergency funds to conduct polling on the Union. Whether or not this broke the law, it certainly breached the ministerial code, which dictates that government resources should not be used for campaigning uses.
Gove has been operating a secretive ‘clearing house’ within the cabinet office to suppress freedom of information requests. This is a potential breach of the code, which demands openness on such matters.
He has misspent £100,580,000 of public money as minister
Gove presided over a £100m ad campaign in August 2019 to prepare businesses for a potential no-deal Brexit. Given that it was the government that opened up, but did not pursue, this option, it represents a clear waste of public money.
Gove wasted £580,000 of taxpayer money conducting polling on Keir Starmer and Sadiq Khan last year. Hanbury was founded by Paul Stevenson, who worked at Vote Leave with Gove. Since this entails using public money for political ends, it is also a breach of the ministerial code.
He has broken the law as minister once.
In June 2021, this high court ruled that Michael Gove broke the law by awarding a contract to associates at the PR company Public First.
Alister Jack is secretary of state for Scotland
Jack has potentially breached the ministerial code once
Jack used the gov.uk website to promote a Daily Mail article he’d written. The article praised Douglass Ross and criticised the SNP government. Publishing this on a government website potentially broke the code, in using government property for party political purposes.
Sajid Javid is secretary of state for health and social care
Javid has potentially broken the law as minister twice
As home secretary under Theresa May, Javid revoked the citizenship of Shamima Begum. This was later ruled as unlawful by the high court.
The supreme court also ruled that Javid had acted unlawfully as home secretary on a separate occasion. On this occasion, Javid had broken data laws in passing on information about the ‘IS Beatles’ to US intelligence services. This decision led to the Beatles being charged in a US court, instead of a UK one.
Boris Johnson is prime minister and first Lord of the Treasury
Johnson has potentially breached the ministerial code 22 times
Johnson most recently broke the ministerial code in misleading parliament over the Downing Street Christmas parties. As an op-ed by Brent Central MP Dawn Butler noted, the prime minister claimed that “all guidance was followed completely in Number 10”, recent leaks about the parties have shown that this was not the case.
Johnson broke the ministerial code in using government resources to campaign in the Hartlepool by-election. While the Conservative Party did not make any transport claims on the campaign, the prime minister flew up on his publicly-funded plane. If the party did not pay for the plane, then this money came from the public purse, a clear violation of the code, which states that the resources of the state should not be used for party political ends.
Johnson broke the ministerial code in avoiding parliamentary scrutiny over covid announcements. Lindsay Hoyle accused Johnson of going around MPs in announcing a change to the unlocking roadmap to the press rather than to parliament. At a meeting of the procedure committee, leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg agreed with Hoyle’s diagnosis.
Johnson has been accused of breaking the ministerial code over lying to the parliamentary commissioner for standards over a £15,000 holiday to Mustique. Not only was the holiday twice the value Johnson claimed, but it had not in fact been financed by the donor David Ross, but instead by the “highly secretive” Mustique Islands corporation.
Johnson has been accused of breaking the ministerial code over offering to provide tax breaks to Dyson over the provision of ventilators. Not only does it give concerns of a conflict of interest, but Johnson may not have informed officials quickly enough after the texts were sent.
Johnson was also accused of breaking the ministerial code by failing to disclose ministers’ earnings from outside employment. The code stipulates that these should be published twice a year, but one has not been published since July 2020.
Johnson committed a “scandalous” breach of the code, in failing to be transparent about payments to cabinet ministers. Among these donations was the £60,000 which had been given by Conservative peer Lord Brownlow to help refurb No 10 downing street.
Boris Johnson attacked Sadiq Khan’s running of Transport for London from his new briefing room. Right or wrong, the criticism broke ministerial code, as Johnson was using public resources, the briefing room, to engage in a political attack against a man running for re-election.
Johnson has made misleading statements to the Commons at least 12 times, according to Byline Times. Each of these represents a separate breach of the code.
As Theresa May’s foreign minister, Boris Johnson helped launch the Institute for Free Trade, a right-wing think tank run by Daniel Hannan, in his own department. Once again, this falls foul of using government property for political purposes.
He has misspent £5,304,000 of public money as minister
One of Johnson’s biggest changes since coming to No 10 has been a £2.6m briefing room. There is no evidence that this has improved government communications and on 20 April the decision was taken to stop using it for televised White House-style press conferences.
Johnson spent £900,000 repainting the RAF Voyager with Union Flag colours. This has had no discernible impact on the government’s aim of “promoting Britain around the world”.
“Two planes Johnson” acquired and repainted a six-month old Airbus A321 in addition to the Voyager. The cost for this hasn’t been published, but we know the cost of repainting from the details of the Voyager above. Allegedly, hiring these sorts of planes costs roughly $250,000 (£176,000) per month. Running total as of June: £1,604,000
Johnson managed to waste almost £200,000 in not accepting official advice around treatment of an adviser sacked by Dominic Cummings. In March 2020, the civil service’s chief executive John Manzoni recommended that Sonia Khan receive a payout, but this advice was ignored. As a result, experts estimate that £200,000 was wasted over the ensuing court case and settlement.
He has allegedly broken the law as minister two times
Early in the third lockdown, Johnson managed to break his own coronavirus legislation. In the same week that two women were fined for meeting outdoors five miles from their home, the prime minister was seen on a bike ride seven miles from No 10.
Early in his premiership, Johnson prorogued parliament to try to force a no-deal Brexit. This was ruled as unlawful by the supreme court.
Priti Patel is home secretary
Patel has potentially breached the ministerial code seven times
Patel most recently broke the ministerial code in setting up a meeting between a Conservative Party donor, and British airways. Not only did Patel breach conflict of interest rules in setting the meeting up, but the lack of a Home Office adviser there also represented a failure to follow protocol.
Patel has been accused of breaching the code twice in privately lobbying Michael Gove to grant her former adviser, Samir Jassal, a £20m PPE contract. The deal ultimately fell through, but Jassal was later instrumental in getting a no-competition deal awarded for £102.6m. The second occasion involved Patel successfully lobbying for a £28.8m contract for PDL. The masks involved in this deal were twice the price of the normal government rate.
Patel was accused of misleading parliament over the conditions of asylum seeker accommodation. Whereas Public Health England “had advised the Home Office that opening multi-occupancy dormitory-style accommodation at Napier was not supported by current guidance”, Patel claimed the exact opposite at the home affairs select committee.
An inquiry into Patel’s behaviour at the Home Office which concluded in November 2020 revealed that her bullying had broken the ministerial code.
Patel breached the code in taking on a £1,000/hour role working for a communications agency, Viasat. Patel failed to consult the parliamentary anti-corruption watchdog until a month after she had started the role, in direct contravention to the code.
Patel also broke the code as Theresa May’s international trade secretary. In 2017, she held unauthorised and unsupervised meetings with Israeli ministers and businesspeople, and was forced to resign.
She has misspent £370,000 of public money as minister
Patel spent £370,000 of taxpayer money settling a case of alleged bullying by her former permanent secretary, Sir Philip Rutnam.
She has allegedly broken the law as minister twice
Patel and Johnson were both warned by the Met Police that their verbal attacks on lawyers were increasing the risk of violence against them. After this warning, Patel kept up this rhetoric, and soon after an attempt was made to attack a human rights lawyer’s office.
In June 2021 it was found that the decision of the Patel’s Home Office to house asylum seekers in Napier Barracks was unlawful, since the barracks was not fit for human habitation.
Dominic Raab is deputy prime minister and secretary of state for justice
Raab has potentially breached the ministerial code one time
As Brexit minister in 2018, Raab refused to give evidence to the House of Commons, potentially breaching the need in the ministerial code for transparency to parliament.
Grant Shapps is secretary of state for transport
Shapps has potentially breached the ministerial code four times
Shapps has been accused of breaching the ministerial code by using taxpayer money to fund a civil aviation lobbying group. An investigation by the Sunday Times found that lobbying by the ‘Airfield Advisory Team’ had disrupted a housebuilding project on a South Oxfordshire airport and a potential gigafactory on Coventry airport. Shapps himself is a keen flyer, and owns a £100,000 light aircraft.
In 2015, it was revealed that Shapps had been employed under a fake name as a web designer. This potentially falls foul of several aspects of the ministerial code, both failing to disclose his full set of interests, and coming under suspicion of conflict of interest due to this obstruction.
Shapps’s hobby of private aviation has often potentially presented conflicts of interest with his transport role. In October 2019 he wrote to the Civil Aviation Authority to tell them to prioritise cutting red tape for pilots like himself, when they were busy with Brexit planning. He also came under scrutiny for registering his own plane in the US rather than the UK, opting out of his own regulatory framework.
He has broken the law as minister once
In a high court ruling, Shapps was found to have acted unlawfully approving a tunnel through the Stonehenge World Heritage site. The project has since been cancelled.
Mark Spencer is the chief whip
Spencer has potentially breached the ministerial code one
Spencer broke the ministerial code, according to allegations by Conservative MP William Wragg, in threatening to cut off funding for the constituencies of MPs who plotted against Downing Street. These allegations came in the wake of Christian Wakeford’s defection, leading Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey to accuse Johnson of “acting more like a mafia boss than a prime minister”.
Rishi Sunak is chancellor of the exchequer
Sunak has potentially breached the ministerial code twice
Sunak’s actions in the Greensill scandal have raised the suspicion of a conflict of interest. The chancellor texted his former boss, David Cameron, saying that he would “push the team” at the Treasury to find a way to help Cameron’s then employer, Greensill Capital, access government-backed covid loans.
Rishi Sunak’s use of the levelling-up fund has blurred the line between his role as chancellor and MP. Although his constituency, Richmond, is very affluent, it was made a top priority location for the fund, while less well-off areas like Barnsley and Sheffield were ignored.
He has misspent £5,149,000,000 of public money as minister
Reporting by The Times revealed that Sunak has written off £4.3bn of public money which was stolen from emergency schemes to help businesses during the coronavirus crisis. This represents three quarters of the £5.8bn total which was stolen.
Research by the University of Warwick showed that Sunak’s £849m “Eat Out to Help Out” initiative helped fuel the second wave of Covid-19 in the UK. Meanwhile, its effect on the hospitality sector was “limited”, according to a report by the London School of Economics.
Liz Truss is secretary of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs, minister for Brexit, and minister for equalities
Truss has potentially breached the ministerial code once
In December 2019, Truss discussed a potential trade deal over dinner with Australian trade minister Simon Birmingham. Truss was not accompanied by a civil servant, potentially in contravention of the ministerial code, which states that ministers must conduct official meetings with civil servants present to monitor them.
She has misspent £252m of public money as minister
The largest PPE contract to date, worth £252m, was awarded to Ayanda Capital Ltd, a company with connections to Truss. The masks provided were later found to be faulty and not put to use. Work by the Good Law Project revealed that Truss’s advisor, Andrew Mills, had insisted that Ayanda was awarded the contract.
She has broken the law as minister three times
As international trade secretary, Truss has broken the law three times. This has been by exporting arms to Saudi Arabia, despite a court order forbidding the government from doing this, in case they are used in the war in Yemen.
Nadim Zahawi is secretary of state for education
Zahawi has potentially breached the ministerial code twice
Zahawi has been accused of breaking the ministerial code by Labour, over the £3.5m “Chunnel Estate”. The estate, a collection of warehouses, was bought by Zahawi’s wife days before a Brexit trade deal was announced. Zahawi’s failure to declare his interest in his £100m “property empire” may well breach standards expected of ministers making serious decisions which could impact such property.
It was revealed that Zahawi used to be an executive director of SThree, a recruitment company, and currently holds shares in it. In the last year, SThree has been contracted to provide services for UK Shared Businesses Services, owned by the Department for Business, of which Zahawi was a minister, as well as Public Health England, while Zahawi was vaccine minster. He has thus profited off contracts given by his own government, raising the potential for a conflict of interest.
Paul Scully is parliamentary undersecretary of state for small business, consumers and labour markets
Scully has allegedly breached the ministerial code once
Scully has been accused of breaking the ministerial code over failing to disclose his ownership of a PR company. Scully is the owner and sole director of Lamarr Project Ltd, set up in 2019 while he was an MP.