Boris Johnson’s former chief advisor Dominic Cummings broke government rules with Substack blog

  • Dominic Cummings broke government rules by setting up a paid Substack newsletter and offering himself as a consultant.
  • UK government rules require former senior advisors to seek official advice before taking up paid work.
  • Lord Eric Pickles, chair of the Whitehall body that examines post-government jobs, lambasted Cummings for breaking the rules.

Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s former chief advisor, breached government rules by failing to seek official advice before starting a Substack newsletter for which he charges £10 a month.

Lord Eric Pickles, the chair of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA), slammed Cummings for failing to seek advice from ACOBA before starting the “commercial undertaking”. Insider revealed ACOBA had written to Cummings last Wednesday.

In a letter to Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, published on Monday, Pickles writes: “Mr Cummings has failed to seek the Committee’s advice on this commercial undertaking, nor has the Committee received the courtesy of a reply to our letter requesting an explanation.

“Failure to seek and await advice before taking up work is a breach of the government’s Rules.”

Under the Business Appointment Rules, former senior advisors and ministers must seek advice from ACOBA before taking up new roles for two years after leaving office.

Pickles says that while he understands “Cummings has made an application via the Cabinet Office to the Committee for consideration”, ACOBA will not be issuing retrospective advice on the matter.

“It is now a matter for the government to decide what appropriate action to take,” Pickles told Gove. But it is unclear what appropriate action the government could take, especially considering that Johnson was found to have broken the rules himself after he left the government in 2018 and started writing columns for the Daily Telegraph.

ACOBA is unable to take any further steps beyond the publication of letters to ministers and officials, leading to it being frequently criticised as a “toothless watchdog”.

Tim Durrant, associate director at the Institute for Government, a Whitehall think tank, told Insider: “A sternly-worded letter is the only sanction that Lord Pickles and his committee can issue. It’s up to ministers to change how the rules on post-government jobs are enforced, if they want to.”

Insider asked the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesperson on Friday if the Prime Minister felt the publication of a letter was a sufficient sanction against breaches of the rules, but did not receive a response.

Johnson’s spokesperson has previously said: “We expect all current and former advisors to act in full accordance with the special advisers’ code of conduct”.

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