The significance of the resignation of Sir Alex Allan

21st November 2020

Yesterday Sir Alex Allan, the Prime Minister’s independent adviser on the Ministerial Code, resigned.

His statement was succinct to the point of curtness:

“I recognise that it is for the Prime Minister to make a judgement on whether actions by a Minister amount to a breach of the Ministerial Code. But I feel that it is right that I should now resign from my position as the Prime Minister’s independent adviser on the Code.”

The first sentence is dressed-up, but it is nothing more than a statement of fact; only the second sentence has any import.

The real reason for the resignation is that the Prime Minister disregarded the view of Allan that the Home Secretary was in breach of the Ministerial Code. 

This resignation, in turn, follows the resignation in September of Sir Jonathan Jones as the Treasury Solicitor, the government’s senior legal official.

The resignation of Jones was also because of a breach, in that case that the United Kingdom government was deliberately intending to break the law.

And that resignation, in turn, followed the curious incident in 2019 where no government official was willing to sign a witness statement, on pain of perjury, as to the government’s true reasons for the five week prorogation of parliament.

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These incidents are accumulating.

Each example is, in its own way, significant – in that it signifies a particular breakdown of the machinery of government.

And taken together they indicate a trend – a government that is indifferent to constitutional norms and conventions and which sees self-restraints as mere inconveniences to dismiss.

Alongside these examples, of course, we have the government threatening both the independence of the judiciary and the efficacy of judicial review.

This is a government that wants to be free of an impartial civil service and independent judiciary and seeks to legislate as much as possible by decree.

This is what I called the ‘Executive Power Project’ (in gentle mockery of the ‘Judicial Power Project’ – a group who, quite seriously, contend that judicial power is the real problem of our age).

So the Allan resignation shows us nothing new, but is a further illustration of what can already be seen as a wider problem.

The government has collapsed into hyper-partisanship, and it is ready to negate every conventional principle and even to break the law, and wants to remove anything that can say ‘no’.

This, of course,  is the politics of hubris.

Yet the hubris of this government never seems to meet its nemesis.

The government still appears popular and there is no reason to believe another general election would return a different result to that of just under a year ago.

The government is even getting its excuses in early for the effect of the Brexit transition period ending on 31 December 2020, whether there is a deal or not.

The Allan resignation signifies what is wrong about this government and its attitude to constitutional propriety – but we already have a number of such signifiers.

And so the Allan resignation also signifies that the government believes it can keep on getting away with these constitutional trespasses – and the worrying thing is that the government is probably right.

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13 thoughts on “The significance of the resignation of Sir Alex Allan”

  1. Last year 54% of people agreed in a Hansard Society poll that ‘Britain needs a strong leader willing to break the rules’. Mr Johnson now appears to be satisfying that desire.

    1. Being popular is not the same as being right. This is on of the most fundamental flaws in democracy, especially in our model of it.

  2. Thatcher gave her name to a period and even a philosophy. Johnson, it is sincerely to be hoped, will do neither. He will be remembered as a sub-Trumpian, for his lies, evasions willingness to break the law if it suits him and so on. Trump’s name will not fade for a long time; but by most of the world he will be remembered as malign. Johnson is a pale imitation: his lies, his evasions, his irresponsibility are from the Trumpite period. Johnson and his government will be remembered, I suspect, as feeble (to lie is bred of feebleness); and Jonson himself as vain and terminally weak. (And see Simon Heffer in the New Statesman a couple of weeks ago).

  3. “A society becomes totalitarian when its structure becomes flagrantly artificial: that is, when its ruling class has lost its function but succeeds in clinging to power by force or fraud.”
    George Orwell

  4. The view of the UK government that it no longer needs to obey constitutional norms or in the fact the law more generally is not ‘probably’ true, but actually true. Those in the UK, now live under a dictatorship that is beyond the rule of law and has popular support.
    Those of a historical mindset will recall Weimar Germany and know what it is coming, and recognise that it will be welcomed by the populous of the United Kingdom.
    I look with horror, regret and shame on the country of my birth, but as a resident and now citizen of Germany also with schadenfreude. And perhaps with hubris.

    1. Is it in fact beyond the rule of law, or is it that we have not yet found the means to bring the law to bear on it?
      I am seeing multiple counts of misconduct in public office and the proper answer to that is for the police to act on it.

      I am open to persuasion that I am seeing offences where there are none, but the guidelines are pretty clear and nobody has suggested any reason why I am wrong.
      The answer I have from the police is that “Prosecution of this offence is not appropriate where there is disagreement over policy or direction.”
      Or in other words, crime should not be punished if anyone disagrees with the politics.

  5. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that there may be civil unrest in 2021 when significant numbers of UK subjects have lost jobs, have little or no money, mortgages in arrears, eviction orders in tens of thousands, auto leases recalled, even hunger as supermarkets’ supply chains are affected by Brexit (revolution is only a few missed meals away). At that point one can anticipate the “Executive Power Project” will use the Brexit controls over movement and rule by decree to try to quell the unrest, just as anti-terrorism laws have been used to arrest stop and search black people or to stifle dissent by a peaceful protester at a Party Conference. 2021 could be a very “interesting” year.

  6. At what point do these things become criminal misconduct?
    I know that the offence is defined as occurring when:
    A wilfully neglects to perform his duty and/or wilfully misconducts himself;
    to such a degree as to amount to an abuse of the public’s trust in the office holder
    without reasonable excuse or justification.
    But it seems to me that every time a minister lies, they are abusing the public’s trust, so that definition is not very helpful.

  7. The vote to break the law was approved by a substantial majority in parliament. What is happening to us? What’s next? These are frightening times. Europe is looking at us in disbelief..

  8. Some more details are emerging, according to reports in the media. Sir Alex Allan was prevented from questioning Sir Philip Rutnam because of “legal reasons” relating to an employment tribunal.

    The Report was completed, apparently, in April, and the Prime Minister has been “sitting on it” since then. The PM may have tried to get Sir Alex to “tone down” the report.

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