Politics

Geoffrey Cox under pressure to quit for working from Caribbean | Geoffrey Cox


The Tory MP Geoffrey Cox is facing mounting pressure to quit on Thursday night after it was revealed he pocketed nearly £1m moonlighting in the past year and voted in the Commons while working as a lawyer in the British Virgin Islands (BVI).

In pointed remarks, Boris Johnson’s spokesperson said MPs must be “visible” to their constituents and that the prime minister “thinks an MP’s primary job is to serve” those who voted for them.

Labour and some of Cox’s own disgruntled colleagues also vented their fury at the former attorney general amid growing anger over MPs’ second jobs. Last week the former minister Owen Paterson quit the Commons after an “egregious” breach of lobbying rules for work conducted on behalf of two companies that paid him more than £100,000.

Cox, 61, declared his extra earnings as a barrister and did not break any rules. But he faced fury for the many hours spent on work unrelated to the Commons and the £150,000 he was paid for giving legal advice to the BVI in relation to corruption charges brought by the UK Foreign Office.

He also spent up to a month in the Caribbean tax haven earlier this year but continued to vote in parliament by proxy – a system devised for parliament to continue its work during lockdown. Since being sacked as a minister in a February reshuffle, Cox has spoken in the chamber once.

Cox was revealed to have made £49,154 for 51 hours of legal work for Khan Partnership Solicitors, while he got £14,999 for 14 hours of work for Fidlaw, a business law firm. In the most recent update to the register of MPs’ interests, Cox said he would get an annual salary from 1 November of £400,000 from Withers, the international law firm. Around £66,666 would cover this year and he would work for them for 41 hours a month. He registered a total of £970,000 income in the last year, for 705 hours of legal services.

Anneliese Dodds, chair of the Labour party, wrote to Johnson saying Cox’s behaviour “raises serious questions about the conflicts of interest between MPs having second jobs that involve them lobbying or otherwise directly engaging with the government”.

She said it was time for the prime minister to “show leadership” and it was clear Cox “took advantage of Covid-related parliamentary rules and flew out to the BVI to vote by proxy from the other side of the Atlantic”.

Dodds added: “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.”

Earlier Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, said Cox’s work overseas was “a legitimate thing to do as long as it’s properly declared” and that it was “quite important” to have “some knowledge of what’s going on” in the BVI.

Some newer Tory MPs rounded on Cox, saying he was “tarnishing the reputation of those of us who don’t have second jobs”. One said “he needs to make a decision as to what he wants to do with his life – either he should do his legal jobs and work wherever that takes him, or be in parliament – he shouldn’t be doing both”.

Another said there was an “old guard mentality” to second jobs among veteran MPs in safer seats, and that they were “taking the piss while some of us are solely focused on being a parliamentarian, care about constituents and work hard”.

But another Conservative MP claimed Cox’s constituents in the Torridge and West Devon seat he has represented since 2005 were well aware of his work outside parliament, and this had been highlighted on leaflets distributed in the constituency by opposition parties at past elections.

Jolyon Maugham QC, who was a tax specialist, said: “I think most of Cox’s constituents would expect him to see their welfare, and that of the communities in Torridge and West Devon, as his main concern. If he isn’t prepared to do that – if he wants to be off arguing cases in tax havens – he shouldn’t be an MP.”

Johnson’s spokesman said it was “incumbent on MPs to be visible, to demonstrate to constituents that they are active on behalf of them”. Asked whether Cox had failed to act in that way, the spokesman said: “It is up to constituents to make that judgment.”

He also confirmed the government would press ahead next week with retracting a motion to overhaul the standards procedure that sparked fury amid the Paterson debacle. The spokesman said MPs would get a chance on Monday to endorse a standards committee report that detailed Paterson’s breaches of the MPs’ code of conduct.

Cox’s office did not respond to a request for comment.



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