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No Minister: What “ministerial directions” tell us about how government works

A recent prime ministerial decision to overrule a senior civil servant sheds light on an instrument that deserves to be better understood

By John Bowers  

Boris Johnson issued a ministerial direction not to settle with former adviser Sonia Khan after she brought an unfair dismissal claim. Photo: Aaron Chown/PA Archive/PA Images

In August 2019 Sonia Khan, special adviser to the then-chancellor Savid Javid, was marched out of Downing Street with a police escort following a clash with Dominic Cummings. This incident was revealing about the government’s impatience with the rules of good conduct that normally apply. The case has also brought to light the little-known area of “ministerial directions.” We now know that Boris Johnson specifically instructed the former chief executive of the civil service John Manzoni not to settle Khan’s unfair dismissal claim, even though Manzoni—and in all likelihood, his legal advisers—thought doing so would better ensure value for…

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