Dominic Raab has defended a Tory MP’s second job advising the British Virgin Islands as “legitimate” despite the furious backlash over the Owen Paterson lobbying row.
The Daily Mail uncovered that former attorney general Geoffrey Cox had spent a month away from the UK at the height of the coronavirus pandemic to advise the tax haven — which was subject to a Foreign Office inquiry — earning him hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal fees.
But Raab, the justice secretary, said Cox’s trip to the tax haven was “a legitimate thing to do as long as it’s properly declared”.
“I think it’s first of all important to say that all of… any outside interests have to be properly declared,” he told Times Radio.
“In relation to the British Virgin Islands, I was the foreign secretary that commissioned a commission of inquiry, given the allegations of misgovernance and very serious ones, including criminal wrongdoing.
“Now, I’m not going to get dragged into what individual MPs do, but actually having the former attorney general — and it wasn’t my decision, he was hired by the government of the BVI to advise them on how to correct and deal and address those allegations — actually, is a legitimate thing to do as long as it’s properly declared.
“And of course, it’s quite important in that parliament, which is responsible residually for some areas of our relationship with the overseas territories, we’ve got some knowledge of what’s going on in those territories.”
Asked whether he had any second advisory jobs, Raab replied: “No, I’m a minister so of course it will be totally inappropriate.”
Raab later told BBC Breakfast it was up to voters whether they thought their MP was earning too much in a second job.
“I think that people do want to see MPs and politics have exposure and experience that comes [from] outside the political world,” he said.
He said this would “make sure we don’t become ever more secluded and out of touch with the priorities of what’s going on in the world outside the House of Commons”.
“Ultimately, voters will decide on their MP and whether they’re spending enough time doing the job for them as their constituents.”
MPs’ financial affairs have come under intense scrutiny following the row over former Cabinet minister Paterson, who had been found guilty by a Westminster sleaze watchdog of an “egregious” breach of the rules by lobbying ministers on behalf of companies he worked for alongside his job as an MP.
The government sought to protect him from a 30-day suspension by finding flaws in the system that found him guilty, including the lack of an appeal.
To the ire of the Conservative benches, it held and won a vote in the Commons that sought to block the suspension and rip up the current system for policing MPs behaviour, effectively allowing Paterson to escape without punishment.
But Downing Street later abandoned its support for Paterson and for changing the standards system following an intense public backlash.
The government performed a swift U-turn last week after it attempted to block Paterson being suspended from parliament for breaking lobbying rules.
Paterson then chose to quit parliament rather than face a second vote on being suspended.
Following the saga, MPs held an emergency debate on MPs standards, which Boris Johnson did not attend because he was visiting a hospital.
Labour leader Keir Starmer accused Boris Johnson of being a “coward” for dodging the debate and said he had given the “green light to corruption”.
“He does not even have the decency to come here, either to defend what he did or to apologise for his actions,” the Labour leader said.
Johnson also provoked anger from his own side, including from former chief whip Mark Harper, who said: “If the team captain gets it wrong, he should come and apologise to the public and to this House. That is the right thing to do to demonstrate leadership.”
But Raab defended Johnson’s absence from the Commons Chamber and admitted the government had made a “mistake” in conflating Paterson’s individual case with the question of reforming the standards system.
“I do think it’s been a mistake to conflate the individual case of an MP with the wider legitimate question which was debated by all members and all sides of the House of Commons yesterday, about the due process and the question of an appeal,” he said.
“We’ve been clear about that…I think that was a mistake that we regret. But it is right to make sure we get a process which is both robust and sustainable.”