The sleaze scandal surrounding Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his government has intensified after a Member of Parliament was found to have voted on UK legislation from a Caribbean island while he worked in a lucrative second job.
Sir Geoffrey Cox was paid about £1 million ($1.3m) to work for the British Virgin Islands, on top of his MP’s salary of about £82,000 a year.
He was hired to defend the islands, a UK overseas territory, in an inquiry launched by the Foreign Office.
Mr Cox, the MP for Torridge and West Devon since 2005, also took advantage of changes to parliamentary attendance rules brought in during the coronavirus pandemic to accommodate work-from-home voting.
The money from the British Virgin Islands was detailed in Parliament's register of interests, a list of external income and gifts that MPs receive during the year.
The revelation came after days of scrutiny on how the government handles scandal and ethics inquiries among its MPs.
First it defended Conservative MP Owen Paterson, who was censured by a parliamentary watchdog for lobbying on behalf of companies, which paid him more than £100,000.
The government then put pressure on Kathryn Stone, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, and tried to dilute a new parliamentary standards system, while Mr Johnson evaded an emergency debate on Monday on the standards system regulating politicians.
The furore, in turn, threw the spotlight on allegations concerning the behaviour of MPs, including Mr Cox, a former attorney general. His office did not respond to a request for comment.
At least 10 other Conservatives have second jobs that earn them more than £50,000 a year, it has been reported.
In a series of interviews, Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab said there were already “strict rules about declarations and accountability” over second jobs.
Mr Raab said Mr Cox's work in the British Virgin Islands was “a legitimate thing to do as long as it's properly declared".
“In terms of accountability, it will be up to voters to decide whether their MP has got the right priorities and that's the same for all of us,” he said. “That's the ultimate accountability we have in our democracy.”
The Conservative Party has been dogged by the issue of “sleaze” since former prime minister John Major announced a “back to basics” policy in 1993, promoting traditional values – but this slogan became derided after a number of Tory MPs were embroiled in a series of sexual and financial scandals.
The leak in 2009 of expenses and allowances claimed by MPs – including payments for a “duck island” and mortgage swindles – led to prosecutions and forced a number of MPs from across the political spectrum to announce they were leaving frontline politics.