Several candidates have turned down the role of Rishi Sunak’s ethics adviser, to which the prime minister had pledged to appoint someone when he entered No 10, the Guardian understands.
Sunak is not offering candidates any enhanced powers – which means advisers would not be able to launch their own investigations, it is understood.
“The concern among potential candidates is that Sunak wants to keep the same remit that [the former ethics adviser Christopher] Geidt had and candidates think that could be reputationally damaging without the ability to launch their own investigations,” one source close to the process said.
The role has been vacant for five months and the delay in appointing an adviser has meant that Sunak has been forced to approve an independent investigator into Dominic Raab.
Any new appointment would also be tasked with finalising an unfinished investigation into the former chief whip Mark Spencer, after a complaint by MP Nusrat Ghani about alleged Islamophobic comments.
There would also probably be pressure for a new adviser to investigate the home secretary, Suella Braverman, who was sacked for a security breach by Liz Truss but reinstated by Sunak.
Two ethics advisers resigned under Boris Johnson – Sir Alex Allen quit after Johnson failed to sack Priti Patel after an investigation into bullying in her department and Geidt, who investigated the donations for the Downing Street refurbishment. Geidt resigned over proposals to break international law on trade policy.
Geidt had indicated before his resignation that he expected his powers to be expanded, including the ability to initiate his own investigations, which currently can only be instigated by the prime minister.
An expansion of those powers was blocked by Johnson, who also issued a new version of the ministerial code that allowed ministers to break the rules without necessarily resigning.
Truss, during her short tenure as prime minister, expressed no interest in appointing a successor to Geidt. No transparency data on ministers’ interests has been published since May, despite multiple changes of government including three prime ministers.
The Labour MP Chris Bryant will hold a Westminster Hall debate on Monday on the ministerial code, where he will argue that parliament should have control over inquiries launched into ministerial propriety – including giving enhanced powers to the parliamentary commissioner for standards.
While Sunak searches for his successor, the Raab investigation will instead be undertaken by the senior employment barrister Adam Tolley KC, who will look into allegations about the deputy prime minister, and is examining three complaints.
The Guardian has revealed multiple allegations of bullying and intimidatory behaviour by Raab across three government departments – the Ministry of Justice, the Brexit department and the Foreign Office. Raab has denied bullying, and vowed to “thoroughly rebut and refute” the allegations.
Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, said Johnson had “unilaterally [rewrote] the ministerial code, ignoring cross-party recommendations to rig the rules and blocking genuine independence to the ethics watchdog”.
“It’s perhaps little wonder why, reading Boris Johnson’s dog’s dinner of a ministerial code and then looking around the cabinet table, that potential applicants have thought twice about taking on his poisoned chalice,” she said.
“Despite Rishi Sunak’s promise to bring integrity, professionalism and accountability to government, he has no plan whatsoever to restore standards and shows every sign of attempting to preserve the discredited standards regime he has inherited from his disgraced former boss and neighbour.”