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Anger erupted yesterday after details of Tory MP Sir Geoffrey Cox’s £1million-plus earnings from legal work were revealed.
The backbencher and leading barrister took advantage of lockdown rules to cast votes in the Commons by proxy as he worked 4,000 miles from Westminster representing the British Virgin Islands, a tax haven accused of corruption.
His lavish income on top of his £82,000 annual backbench salary threw the spotlight on MPs across the political divide with second jobs in the wake of the furore over former Cabinet minister Owen Paterson’s lobbying links.
Downing Street officials yesterday rejected calls for a ban on second jobs for MPs but insisted they should put their Commons and constituency duties first.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister said Mr Johnson believed an “MP’s primary job is and must be to serve their constituents and to represent their interests in Parliament”.
The spokesman said: “They should be visible in their constituencies and available to help constituents with their constituency matters.
“If they’re not doing that, they’re not doing their job and will rightly be judged on that by their constituents.”
He added: “The Prime Minister doesn’t back an outright ban on second jobs.
“A ban on second jobs will catch those who still work in roles such as doctors and nurses.”
Westminster “can and historically has” benefited from MPs having second jobs, the spokesman argued.
He said “outside experience, where this is reasonable and an MP’s parliamentary duties can still take priority” could help inform the House.
But the spokesman declined to be drawn on which professions were deemed acceptable.
“It’s incumbent on them (MPs) to be able to demonstrate to the electorate that they are working on their behalf.”
Officials also announced last night that ministers are to table a Commons motion to reverse a vote in favour of setting up a committee of MPs to review standards procedures.
Mr Johnson backed down on the proposal after opposition MPs refused to cooperate with his attempt to swiftly overhaul disciplinary procedures in response to a report concluding that Mr Paterson breached lobbying rules.
The spokesman for the Prime Minister said: “We recognise the strong views on this particular point and having listened to those again yesterday afternoon, we will table a motion tonight for next week to formalise the change of approach by unpicking the amendment.”
The motion will rescind the amendment tabled by senior Tory MP Andrea Leadsom.
Mr Paterson, who was furious at his treatment by Commons standards watchdogs, quit as an MP last week.
With the row continuing yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab was asked seven times by a BBC interviewer why the Prime Minister had not apologised for botched attempt to change the standards rules.
He told the Today programme on BBC Radio 4: “We’ve been clear, Steve Barclay was the responsible minister in the Commons yesterday, I’m clear now, and the whole government – all ministers are – that it was a mistake to conflate two issues, the individual case with the wider system and the due process that should be in place, and we regret that.”
Pushed on whether Mr Johnson was sorry for conflating the two, he added: “Well, I don’t answer for or speak for the Prime Minister directly.
“I’ve just been very clear on what the Government has said, including Steve Barclay, the Cabinet Office minister, and I’m saying it as Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary as well.”
Mr Raab said it was ultimately up to voters whether they thought their MP was earning too much in a second job.
“Ultimately, voters will decide on their MP and whether they’re spending enough time doing the job for them as their constituents,” he said.
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Mr Raab said Sir Geoffrey Cox’s work for the British Virgin Islands was a “legitimate thing to do as long as it is properly declared.”
Labour called for an urgent investigation into the former attorney general’s work for the tax haven.
In a letter to the Prime Minister, Labour Party chairwoman Anneliese Dodds wrote: “The irony is not lost on me that he arrived in the Caribbean on the day that those MPs who actually feel a sense of duty to their constituents were debating global anti-corruption standards.
“The people of Torridge and West Devon must be wondering if Geoffrey Cox is a Caribbean-based barrister or a Conservative MP.
“I can only assume that you didn’t know about this arrangement and were as shocked as everyone else to discover what Sir Geoffrey has been up to, because the alternative – that you knew and were content for one of your MPs and a former Minister to be acting in this way – would be a total dereliction of your duty as both leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister.”
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