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Tory minister named in Johnson partygate interference report quits

todayAugust 12, 2023 3

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Tory minister named in Johnson partygate interference report quits

Tory minister Zac Goldsmith has publicly clashed with Rishi Sunak after resigning from the government with an attack on the prime minister’s “apathy” towards the environment.

Mr Sunak accused the Conservative peer of quitting rather than apologising for his role in a campaign to undermine a parliamentary committee’s probe into Boris Johnson.

But Lord Goldsmith hit out at “misleading” remarks from No 10 and insisted he was “happy to apologise” for his criticism of the privileges committee’s investigation that found Mr Johnson lied to MPs over COVID lockdown-breaking parties at Downing Street.

The close ally of Mr Johnson, who appointed him to the Lords, has quit his environmental role, claiming Mr Sunak was “simply uninterested” in the issue.

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The day before, the Tory peer, an ex-MP, was chastised by the privileges committee for tweeting about its finding that the former prime minister had lied to parliament about the parties.

In a letter released by Downing Street, it was revealed that Mr Sunak asked him to apologise to the committee, but he refused.

Mr Sunak wrote to the peer: “You were asked to apologise for your comments about the privileges committee as we felt they were incompatible with your position as a minister of the crown. You have decided to take a different course.”

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The prime minister then said that he was “proud of the record of this government and indeed of Zac in government making sure that we tackle climate change and protect our natural environment”.

Lord Goldsmith later claimed he was “happy to apologise for publicly sharing my views”.

He added: “Number 10 asked me to acknowledge that and made clear there was no question of my being sacked if I did so. I was – and am – happy to do so.”

In his resignation post on social media, Lord Goldsmith characterised their inquiry as a “kangaroo court” and “witch hunt” – but Mr Sunak’s spokesman insisted the PM still had confidence in the minister.

Just 24 hours after the comments were highlighted, Lord Goldsmith resigned his post with a stinging resignation letter, taking aim at the current incumbent at Number 10.

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The Tory peer said it had been an “exhilarating experience” in the job, praising the progress the UK had made in leading on climate change internationally – particularly when Mr Johnson was in office.

But Lord Goldsmith said he had been “horrified” by the government’s “abandonment” of policies around animal welfare, and that its efforts on environmental issues at home had “simply ground to a standstill”.

“More worrying, the UK has visibly stepped off the world stage and withdrawn our leadership on climate and nature,” he wrote in his resignation letter.

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What’s in the Privileges Committee special report?

Read more:
Who was named as criticising the Boris Johnson partygate report?
The ghost of Boris Johnson is still haunting Rishi Sunak | Beth Rigby

Lord Goldsmith said the government had “effectively abandoned” its “solemn” commitment to spend £11.6bn of its aid budget on climate and environment causes – calling it “the single most important signal” to countries suffering and in persuading other G7 countries to act – and had “not come clean on the broken promise” as the final year of spending will be after the next general election.

‘Government apathy on climate’

“Prime minister, having been able to get so much done previously, I have struggled even to hold the line in recent months,” he wrote.

“The problem is not that the government is hostile to the environment, it is that you, our prime minister, are simply uninterested. That signal, or lack of it, has trickled down through Whitehall and caused a kind of paralysis.”

The peer said it had been “a privilege” to hold his post, “but this government’s apathy in the face of the greatest challenge we have faced makes continuing in my current role untenable”, so he was resigning “with great reluctance… in order to focus my energy where it can be more useful”.

Who is Lord Goldsmith?

Lord Goldsmith became an MP in 2010 when he won Richmond Park from the Lib Dems.

In 2016, he was the Conservative candidate for London mayor – with Boris Johnson’s wife, Carrie, working for him over this period. But he lost out to Labour’s Sadiq Khan after a campaign heavily criticised over claims it had racist undertones.

He resigned as a Tory MP in 2016 over the planned expansion of Heathrow, and stood as an independent candidate in protest, but lost the seat to Lib Dem Sarah Olney.

After being selected as the Conservative candidate in the snap election of 2017, he regained Richmond Park, only to lose it to Ms Olney again come the 2019 ballot – despite Mr Johnson’s landslide victory elsewhere.

In 2020, Mr Johnson made him a Tory peer, where he held environment and foreign ministerial roles.

‘UK continues to play an important role’

In his response, the prime minister said: “We can be proud of the UK’s record as a world-leader on net zero. We are going far beyond other countries and delivering tangible progress whilst bringing down energy bills. This government is also committed to leaving the environment in a better state than we found it, as set out in our environmental improvement plan.”

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Environmental campaigner Stanley Johnson on Zac Goldsmiths’ resignation

Former culture secretary Nadine Dorries – who was also named in Thursday’s report for her “vociferous attacks” on the privileges committee – responded to the resignation on Twitter, saying Lord Goldsmith’s “record of achievement”, “depth of knowledge” and “passion” were “second to none”.

She added: “We’ve just lost the most able minister for the environment any government would be lucky and proud to have. This loss is beyond party politics. It’s huge.”

Labour’s shadow climate secretary, Ed Miliband, said: “Zac Goldsmith has blown open the truth about the utter failure and negligence of Rishi Sunak’s government on the climate and nature crisis.

“It’s no wonder ministers are resigning from the government because they are so ‘horrified’ by Rishi Sunak’s approach.”

The Liberal Democrats said Mr Sunak “should have had the guts” to sack Lord Goldsmith after the report condemned his actions, saying the PM was “clearly too weak to control his own party”.

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