Remember Eric Pickles? The larger-than-life Coalition mainstay who inspired such legendary headlines as ‘I did not spend £10,000 on extra biscuits.’ These days Lord Pickles is chairing the Cabinet Office watchdog Acoba, which vets appointments for senior civil servants and ministers upon leaving government. The agency is currently somewhat overworked, with onetime appointees from the Johnson and Truss administrations now going off to collect all sorts of exciting gigs.
Among them is, of course, Boris Johnson himself. The rambunctious rule-breaker announced he was taking up a new column with the Daily Mail a fortnight ago. But emails released today between Johnson’s office and Acoba reveal that he only informed the watchdog after the media trail had dropped and just four hours before his first column was published. Boris? Filing late after the deadline? It couldn’t be…
In one incredulous message from the Acoba secretariat, a poor civil servant disbelievingly asks Johnson’s team ‘Is this announcement on Twitter and video of you posted on the Daily Mail Online’s account correct, are you the Daily Mail’s new columnist?’ The answer was obviously yes – though the former PM’s team suggested he might not have breached guidelines because, er, at the time of the announcement, he hadn’t signed a contract yet.
Pickles hasn’t taken too kindly to Johnson thumbing his nose at his team and says that there was a ‘clear and unambiguous breach of the rules.’ He also noted that he was familiar with the rules, because as Prime Minister he had set them out and had previously been criticised for doing the exact same thing with his Telegraph column in 2018. Pickles adds that the rules on outside work by former ministers are out of date and need more teeth. The time is past, he says, when we can rely on ‘good chaps’ to do the right thing.