British MP Geoffrey Cox in second job row denies breaching parliamentary rules

Former attorney general could face investigation over allegations he used office to carry out lucrative second job in Virgin Islands

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 10: Attorney General Geoffrey Cox arrives at 10 Downing Street for a cabinet meeting on September 10, 2019 in London, England. Parliament has now been suspended for five weeks. Boris Johnson's vote to call an early election in October was defeated in the Commons for a second time. (Photo by Peter Summers/Getty Images)

Former UK attorney general Sir Geoffrey Cox said on Wednesday he does not believe he has breached parliamentary rules after a video appeared to show him undertaking a lucrative second job for the British Virgin Islands government from his Westminster office.

The Member of Parliament and barrister issued a statement on his website defending his decision to offer legal advice to the islands that could earn him more than £1 million ($1.3m) this year on top of his £81,900 MP salary. He said would co-operate with any investigation into his conduct.

"He does not believe that he breached the rules but will of course accept the judgment of the Parliamentary Commissioner or of the committee on the matter," the statement read.

Mr Cox was already at the centre of the Westminster sleaze storm – triggered by the Owen Paterson lobbying scandal – after it was revealed he voted on UK legislation from the British Virgin Islands while helping its government defend a UK Foreign Office probe into the island.

However, the MP of 16 years said he had been given permission by Chief Whip Mark Spencer to utilise proxy voting rules brought in during the Covid-19 lockdown to allow him to continue voting in the House of Commons during his time in the Caribbean.

The opposition Labour Party has referred Mr Cox to the Commons' standards commissioner over the footage released by The Times on Wednesday, only two days after MPs called for a public inquiry into government corruption.

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner was swift to condemn the latest development.

She called the alleged use of the office "an egregious, brazen breach of the rules" and said she has written to standards commissioner Kathryn Stone asking her for "guidance on beginning a formal investigation on this matter".

Ms Rayner said in her letter the MPs' code of conduct made it "very clear" that elected representatives ensure that "any facilities and services provided from the public purse is ... always in support of their parliamentary duties" and "should not confer any ... financial benefit on themselves".

"The member has clearly broken this rule based on the media reports we have seen," she said.

"Members must be clear that they cannot use the estate for private financial gain and where there is such a stark conflict with public interest, they must face substantial consequences."

The most recent register of financial interests showed that Torridge and West Devon MP Mr Cox will earn more than £800,000 from Withers, an international law firm appointed by the British Virgin Islands government in January.

Did the bell toll for Sir Geoffrey Cox?

Mr Cox also disclosed in the register that from September 28 until further notice he will be paid £400,000 a year by Withers for up to 41 hours of work a month.

In the British Virgin Islands commission of inquiry hearing on September 14, he can be heard in the online recording telling the commissioner: "Forgive my absence during some of the morning – I'm afraid the bell went off."

The bell referred to could be the division bell that sounds across the British Parliament estate to alert MPs to a vote taking place.

Earlier in the proceedings, Mr Cox appears to vacate his seat for 20 minutes at about the two-hour mark in the footage.

His Commons record shows he voted in person on six occasions on September 14 to push through the government's health and social care levy.

"A Conservative MP using a taxpayer-funded office in Parliament to work for a tax haven facing allegations of corruption is a slap in the face and an insult to British taxpayers," Ms Rayner said.

The Liberal Democrats also waded in, with the party's Chief Whip Wendy Chamberlain urging the QC to "save everyone the time and trouble of an investigation" and "come clean now".

"The real slap in the face is that this took place on the very same day he voted through a tax hike on millions of hardworking British people," she said.

The row over second jobs comes after a recommendation that former environment secretary Owen Paterson should be suspended for six weeks after the Commons Standards Committee found he had broken the centuries-old ban on paid lobbying by MPs.

In the bitter aftermath of the row, Mr Paterson announced he was quitting as MP for North Shropshire after 24 years, as an attempt by the government to delay his punishment by ripping up the current standards system failed when opposition parties refused to offer their support.

Boris Johnson, who was previously well paid as a backbencher, including for his regular column for The Daily Telegraph signalled on Tuesday that those in the Commons should focus on the electorate.

A spokesman for the prime minister said Mr Johnson thought an "MP's primary job is and must be to serve their constituents and to represent their interests in Parliament".

"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."

Watch: Boris Johnson says he takes corruption seriously

Updated: November 10th 2021, 3:45 PM