Friday, December 8

Thursday briefing: Bodies found in search for Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira; PM’s ethics adviser quits | Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira

Good morning. Before the rest of today’s newsletter, we have to bring you the terrible news that bodies believed to be those of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira have been found in the Brazilian Amazon.

Phillips, a longtime Guardian contributor who was writing a book about the Amazon, and Pereira, a renowned defender of the rights of Brazil’s Indigenous peoples, had been missing since 5 June. Regional police chief Eduardo Fontes said that one of two men arrested in connection to the pair’s disappearance had confessed to killing them and taken officers to the bodies.

The Guardian’s Latin America correspondent, Tom Phillips, tweeted overnight: “I’ve just returned from the Itaquaí River, where we saw bodies believed to be those of our dear friend Dom & his friend Bruno recovered from the rainforest. Devastating. An outrage. There must be justice for them, for their families and for the noble causes in which they believed.”

You can read beautifully written tributes to Dom and Bruno, and how they were brought together by their love of the Amazon and desire to tell the stories of the Indigenous peoples who live there. You can also listen to this morning’s episode of Today in Focus. And click here to donate to a crowdfunding campaign for the families grieving the loss of two extraordinary men.

After the rest of today’s headlines, we’ll be covering the resignation of the prime minister’s ethics adviser, Lord Geidt.

Five big stories

  1. Rwanda flight | Priti Patel has been accused by Labour of “government by gimmick” after the cancellation of the inaugural flight taking asylum seekers to Rwanda. The criticism came as the Guardian learned Patel was seeking to curb the number of modern slavery claims from refugees hoping to stay in the UK.

  2. Cost of living | Food price rises in the UK could hit 15% this summer – the highest level in more than 20 years – with inflation lasting into the middle of next year, according to a report.

  3. Northern Ireland | Brussels has urged Westminster to throw out the “illegal” attempt by Boris Johnson to unilaterally rewrite the post-Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland, as the EU launched fresh legal action against the UK.

  4. Trans equality | The British public are typically disengaged from toxic social media debates on gender identity and instead approach the issue with compassion and fairness, a study has found. The report for More in Common is the most detailed study of public attitudes on the subject yet conducted.

  5. Health | The WHO has announced that it’s changing the name of the monkeypox virus as soon as possible to avoid discrimination. Scientists warn that the “prevailing” but mistaken perception is that the virus is endemic in humans in some African countries.

In depth: Lord Geidt resigns

Lord Geidt, who has resigned as the independent adviser on ministerial interests. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

In retrospect, they don’t sound like the words of a man who thought his position was tenable. “How can I defeat the impression that you’re suggesting of a cosy, insufficiently independent relationship?” Lord Geidt said at a select committee hearing on Tuesday, shortly after being compared to a “tin of whitewash”. “I think it’s very hard, I will freely admit. But I am trying my best to work with what I’ve got.”

He said it was “reasonable” to think Boris Johnson had breached the ministerial code he was tasked with upholding. He even fretted over his status as an “asset” of the prime minister.

Even so, a Downing Street source called the news that Geidt had quit as the independent adviser on ministerial interests last night “a total surprise and a mystery”, saying that he had asked to stay in the job for another six months as recently as Monday. But after what one friend called a “long night of the soul”, he resigned yesterday – and placed Johnson straight back in the mire over the claims of impropriety that he is so doggedly trying to shake off. Here’s what you need to know.


First, a reminder that tonight we’ll be doing our first First Edition Live event, with Guardian columnist Gaby Hinsliff and former ministerial adviser Salma Shah, on the future of the Conservative party. Hit reply to submit a question, watch here, and find more details at the bottom of this section.

What official reasons have we heard for Geidt’s departure?

Geidt’s statement on the subject is the definition of terse: “With regret, I feel that it is right that I am resigning from my post as independent adviser on ministers’ interests.” But Heather Stewart, Aubrey Allegretti and Rowena Mason report this morning that his resignation letter to the prime minister was much more strongly worded. (Funnily enough, the Cabinet Office is not planning to publish it.)

A mysterious line in the Downing Street response refers, without context or explanation, to “a commercially sensitive matter in the national interest” that Geidt advised on this week.

What else do we know about why he quit?

The briefing from those around the former adviser suggest that the “commercially sensitive matter” is a bit of a red herring. They suggest that, while he did not instantly leave after his difficult experience at the select committee – which John Crace described as “a masterpiece of nihilism”, with Geidt cast as “the ultimate establishment stooge” – it was the inciting incident to his departure.

One person quoted in Heather, Aubrey and Rowena’s story said Geidt was “sick of being lied to”. Jessica Elgot’s excellent analysis piece quotes a Whitehall source who says: “It will have been very difficult for him to read stories about how he was a patsy, that is absolutely not how he views himself at all.” Another source quoted in the Times (£) said: “He has been despairing for weeks.”

What was Geidt’s record in the job?

By his own account to MPs this week, he has had an “exceptionally busy” year – and yet one which has appeared to feature remarkably few firm findings to the detriment of the man who has kept him so occupied.

Geidt was asked to investigate donations that helped to pay for the refurbishment of the prime minister’s flat – and, while he was critical of the prime minister, ultimately cleared him of wrongdoing. He reached that view after getting a “humble and sincere” apology from Johnson for failing to disclose crucial WhatsApp exchanges with the Tory peer who funded the makeover.

Johnson said he “did not recall” the messages. Geidt said the episode “shook his confidence” in the handling of the case, but left it at that.

Then there was Partygate. Geidt wrote that there was a “legitimate question” about whether receiving a fixed-penalty notice for breaking coronavirus rules constituted a breach of the code.

With painful precision, he outlined the basic impossibility of his position: “I have attempted to avoid the independent adviser offering advice to a prime minister about a prime minister’s obligations under his own ministerial code,” he said. “If a prime minister’s judgment is that there is nothing to investigate or no case to answer, he would be bound to reject any such advice, thus forcing the resignation of the independent adviser.”

In reply, Johnson carefully considered all of the facts, and then concluded that he hadn’t done anything wrong. But because Geidt had simply raised the “question” of a breach rather than concluding that there was one, he felt he could stay in his post.

Who will replace him?

Well … it’s not a dream job, is it? As Lord Geidt has found, the role of adviser on ministerial ethics to a government that has found itself caught up in an apparently endless tide of scandal is reputationally difficult. At the select committee hearing, he admitted that “there is some small limitation on the capacity of the independent adviser to be truly independent”, in part because he reports directly to Johnson rather than a neutral third party.

He took months to agree to do the job himself – and it only became available after his predecessor, Sir Alex Allan, resigned when Boris Johnson overruled his finding that Priti Patel had bullied civil servants and refused to sack her as home secretary.

Anyone replacing him would immediately face questions about how they could possibly be credible given the prime minister’s record of ignoring two departed predecessors. Jessica Elgot reports that senior Whitehall sources now suspect Johnson, having already rewritten the ministerial code to limit the impact of its enforcement, may simply dispense with the role altogether.

PS: Here’s one more plug for First Edition Live, which is happening this evening. We’ll be talking about the future of the Conservative party with columnist Gaby Hinsliff and Salma Shah, former adviser to the health secretary, Sajid Javid. We’ve had loads of great questions – if you’d like to submit one, maybe about Lord Geidt, hit reply to this email.

You can watch live here and on from 7pm tonight (you can also hit the notification bell on YouTube to get a reminder when the stream starts). See you there.

What else we’ve been reading

  • If you’ve seen stories about claims of a sentient AI and worried it might be time to bury your phone in the woods, worry no longer: Alex Hern has a superb explanation of why it’s not, which involves another AI doing a passable imitation of a werewolf. For more of this sort of thing, sign up for Techscape. Archie

  • Columnist Arwa Mahdawi writes this week about a mysterious party that’s been happening down the road from where she lives in New York. Nimo

  • A new series, The heat or eat diaries, gives a granular sense of life on the front lines of the cost of living crisis. The first contributor, Liz, describes her strategies for saving money on energy, and wonders if she could get a loan from Elon Musk. Archie

  • In a brilliant piece of analysis, Nicholas Barber examines why the film industry is fixated on nostalgia, opting for remakes and prequels instead of looking to the future. Nimo

  • Marina Hyde is good on the essential emptiness of the policies that led to the Rwanda flights fiasco, and a government on whose watch “annoying all the right people” has become the controlling ethos. Archie


Cricket | Following an investigation into allegations of racism at the Yorkshire County Cricket Club, a number of individuals have been charged by the England and Wales Cricket Board. Michael Vaughan, the former England captain, is understood to be one of those charged.

Football | The former England captain Steph Houghton will miss the Euros after not being included in the squad for next month’s tournament. Houghton had been in a race to prove her fitness to the manager, Sarina Wiegman, after an injury-hit season.

Athletics | Sebastian Coe has warned that it would be “bizarre” for London to be without a world-class track and field venue amid reports that UK Athletics has been offered £15m to cut ties with the 2012 Olympic Stadium.

The front pages

Guardian front page, 16 June 2022
Guardian front page, 16 June 2022 Photograph: Guardian

The Guardian’s lead today is “PM under pressure again as second ethics adviser quits”. The Times’ and the Telegraph’s main headlines reflect that news in similar language, while the Metro goes its own way: “The only way is ethics”. The i has “No 10 ethics chief quits in protest at PM’s conduct”. The Geidt news is the basement story on the front of the Financial Times which leads with “Three-quarter point rate rise as Fed steps up inflation fight”. “Furious Priti attacks secrecy of Euro courts” – that’s the Express on the stymied Rwanda deportations. A step further in the Daily Mail: “Raab’s threat to ignore Euro court rulings”. “Please save Beatrix” – the Mirror campaigns for a couple who donated the heart of their stillborn child, and now need just such a donation for their 16-month-old daughter.

Today in Focus

Demonstrators hold signs in Brasilia, during a protest about for the search for British journalist Dom Phillips and indigenous expert Bruno Pereira.
Photograph: Adriano Machado/Reuters

Brazilian police have arrested two men in connection with the alleged murder of British journalist Dom Phillips and Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira. The pair went missing on an expedition in the Javari region. This episode was recorded before news on Thursday that bodies had been found in the search for the two men.

Cartoon of the day | Martin Rowson

Martin Rowson’s cartoon.
Martin Rowson’s cartoon. Illustration: Martin Rowson/The Guardian

The Upside

A bit of good news to remind you that the world’s not all bad

Menswear designer Priya Ahluwalia’s show at London fashion week.
Menswear designer Priya Ahluwalia’s show at London fashion week. Photograph: PixelFormula/SIPA/Rex/Shutterstock

It was fashion week in London last weekend and the showstoppers weren’t who you might have expected. The event seemed to be embracing what designer Priya Ahluwalia called “meaningful change”, by championing a new generation of diverse designers. Two of the most notable designers of this cohort were Ahluwalia and Martine Rose, who showed their collections on the catwalks. In a welcome shift for the notoriously white, notoriously wealthy industry, Ahluwalia’s designs draw on her Indian and Nigerian heritage and often opts to use “deadstock” fabrics over new materials. The exciting designs are a sign that the industry is diversifying and becoming a more accessible and open place.

Sign up here for a weekly roundup of The Upside, sent to you every Sunday

Bored at work?

And finally, the Guardian’s crosswords to keep you entertained throughout the day – with plenty more on the Guardian’s Puzzles app for iOS and Android. Until tomorrow.

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