Boris Johnson has re-written the ministerial code of conduct whilst he is being investigated by MPs over whether he has breached it by lying to the House of Commons.

Labour said Johnson is “debasing the principles of public life” and the party’s deputy leader Angela Rayner accused the PM of “watering down” the rules of conduct in order to “save his own skin”.

Johnson has also blocked his ethics advisor’s power to launch investigations without getting the go-ahead from the prime minister. He has also given himself the power to sanction ministers found to have breached the ministerial code. No longer will they be automatically expected to resign or face being sacked as Johnson can suspend their pay or make them apologise instead.

PM removes ‘integrity’ and ‘honesty’ from ministerial code

The prime minister is under investigation by the House of Commons privileges committee over whether he lied to MPs about the Partygate scandal.

Rayner said Johnson’s rewrite of the ministerial code removes all previous references to integrity, objectivity, accountability, transparency, honesty and leadership in the public interest. This Prime Minister is downgrading and debasing the principles of public life before our very eyes.

“In a week when Boris Johnson’s lies to Parliament about industrial rule-breaking at the heart of Government were finally exposed, he should be tendering his resignation but is instead watering down the rules to save his own skin,” said Labour’s deputy leader.

Johnson’s updated ministerial code still contains the expectation that misleading parliament is a cause for resignation and still states the prime minister is the “ultimate judge” of the “appropriate consequences of a breach of those standards.”

Notoriously, home secretary Priti Patel kept her position in November 2020 despite having been found to have breached the ministerial code by bullying staff.

Rayner told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme: “He’s acting like a tin pot despot – I have never ever witnessed in my entire life a prime minister of any political persuasion behaving in such an outrageous way and it just completely undermines our democracy.”

Johnson said he was “humbled” by the publication of the Sue Gray report into the numerous illegal parties at Number 10 during lockdown. Gray’s report revealed a heavy drinking and law-breaking culture at the heart of the UK government. Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called it “debauchery”.

Tory minister quits over No 10’s ‘toxic culture’

Conservative MP Paul Holmes has quit his ministerial role citing the “toxic culture” in Downing Street revealed by the Gray report which “clearly showed a culture in No 10 that was distasteful”.

In his resignation statement Holmes, who was a parliamentary private secretary at the Home Office, said “it is clear to me that a deep mistrust in both the Government and the Conservative Party has been created by these [partygate] events”.

Meanwhile, two more Conservative MPs have submitted letters of no confidence in the prime minister to the 1922 Committee. The move by former minister Sir Bob Neill and Alicia Kearns brings the number of Conservative MPs calling for Johnson to quit since the publication of the Gray report to seven.

It will take 54 letters to the 1922 Committee to force a vote of confidence in Johnson’s leadership – 22 Conservative MPs have so far publicly submitted letters, and the Telegraph reports that senior government ministers “privately believe the figure to be as high as 34.”