UK politics live: No 10 implicitly criticises Geoffrey Cox; MPs to get new vote on Owen Paterson report

Good morning. Boris Johnson may have been hoping that, after yesterday, outrage about Tory sleaze would have passed the high water mark and that the news agenda would start to move on. But it hasn’t worked out like that, and this morning the whole sleaze/misconduct/corruption issue has got second wind and is back with a vengeneance. Alex Wickham in his London Playbook briefing has a good round-up of all the new developments, but the highlight is the Daily Mail splash, by Harriet Line and Jason Groves, which starts like this.


A Tory MP has earned hundreds of thousands of pounds from a second job that saw him vote in Parliament remotely from the Caribbean.

Geoffrey Cox, a QC and former attorney general, is advising the government of the British Virgin Islands, a tax haven accused of corruption.

He took advantage of lockdown rules to cast votes in the Commons by proxy as he worked 4,000 miles away on the lucrative contract earlier this year, a source disclosed.

Sir Geoffrey yesterday revealed he has earned more than £1million from outside legal work over the past year on top of his £82,000 salary as a backbencher.

Neil Henderson
(@hendopolis)

MAIL: Top MP warns fortune for working in tax haven #TomorrowsPapersToday pic.twitter.com/Rd4rZQPXwH


November 8, 2021

The Mail is not alleging that Cox has broken any laws. But, as MPs discovered during the expenses scandal, what matters in the court of public opinion (a judicial environment where Cox’s skills are well below QC level) is what people think is approporiate, not what’s legal.

Dominic Raab, the deputy prime minister, was on morning interview round duty for the government. As justice secretary, he would normally be expected to applaud a British lawyer making good money abroad, but obviously that wasn’t the line to take today.

Asked about Cox, and whether it is right for an MP to be spending so much time on a second job instead of representing his consitituents, Raab’s first response was to say that the fact that we know about this was a victory for transparency, and the rules that force MPs to declare their earnings and their hours in cases like this.

Raab said it was legitimate for Cox to be advising a foreign government on legal matters in this way. 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.

But on the wider question of whether an MP should be spending so much time on a second job, and earning so much from it, Raab was equivocal. He would not defend Cox. But he did not criticise him either, and instead he said it was up to Cox’s constituents to decide what was right. Asked if he was “comfortable” with this, Raab told the Today programme:


As I made very clear, it’s not for me to get comfortable or otherwise with it.

It’s for the voters in any individual constituency to look at the record of their MP and decide whether they got the right priorities.

That sounded like a vague hint that the Conservative association in Torridge and West Devon, or the electorate there as a whole, might be justified in finding a new MP at the next election.

I will post more on Raab’s interviews shortly.

Here is the agenda for the day.

10am: Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, and Lexie Kirkconnell-Kawana, head of regulation at Impress, give evidence to the Commons culture committee on the online harms bill.

11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.

2pm: A minister gives a statement in the Scottish parliament on Covid.

2.30pm: The British Retail Consortium, the Cold Chain Federation and UK Hospitality give evidence to the Commons environment committee on labour shortages; at 3.30pm Ben Broadbent, deputy governor of the Bank of England, gives evidence.

Also, according to the BBC, the government will today confirm that Covid vaccines will be compulsory for NHS frontline staff in England from next spring.

I try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions, and if they are of general interest, I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.

If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter. I’m on @AndrewSparrow.

Alternatively, you can email me at andrew.sparrow@theguardian.com



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