Boris Johnson tells MPs to be ‘visible in constituencies’ amid outside work storm

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Former attorney general Sir Geoffrey Cox (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Archive)
Former attorney general Sir Geoffrey Cox (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Archive)

Boris Johnson has told his MPs they need to be “visible in their constituencies” after former Attorney General Sir Geoffrey Cox faced a storm of criticism over his legal work outside Parliament.

According to the latest update to the MPs’ register of financial interests, Sir Geoffrey is set to earn nearly £900,000 from advising the Government of the British Virgin Islands (BVI) in a corruption inquiry set up by the British Government.

His advisory role for the BVI meant he voted remotely in Parliament while working in the Caribbean earlier this year.

The revelation prompted difficult questions for Mr Johnson who has come under fire for his handling of the fallout from the Owen Paterson lobbying scandal.

Opposition MPs have also questioned the amount of money Sir Geoffrey earns on top of his £82,000-a-year salary as an MP and how he is able to juggle his Parliamentary duties with his outside legal commitments.

Asked about Sir Geoffrey’s work for the BVI on Tuesday, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “The PM’s view is that MPs’ primary job is to serve constituents and 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 jobs and will rightly be judged by their constituents.”

The Paterson affair has led to renewed scrutiny on MPs who hold second jobs with Parliament’s Standards Committee expected to review the current rules.

While the Prime Minster’s Spokesman said Mr Johnson did not support an outright ban on second jobs, tighter restrictions on consultancy and advisory roles are being considered by the Standards Committee with a recommendation possible by the end of the year.

Earlier on Tuesday Dominic Raab, the Justice Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister, insisted Sir Geoffrey’s work in the BVI was “legitimate” but warned he would ultimately be judged by his constituents.

“It’s important to say that 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 including very serious ones including criminal wrongdoing.

“I am not going to get dragged into what individual MPs do but actually having a former Attorney General...actually is a legitimate thing to do as long as it’s properly declared.

“And of course it’s quite important that Parliament which is responsible for some areas of our relationship with the overseas territories has got some knowledge of what is going on there. Actually being in touch and working with our overseas territories is quite an important responsibility for MPs and Parliament.”

According to the MPs’ register of interests Sir Geoffrey has been hired as a consultant global counsel to Withers LLP, a law firm acting for the BVI Government, for up to 41 hours a month from November 1. For that he will receive £400,000 plus Vat annually. The register also shows that Sir Geoffrey earned £437,233 from working for Withers and advising the BVI between April and September this year.

On top of that he earned almost £130,000 for other legal work in addition to his MPs’ salary.

Asked whether Sir Geoffrey was devoting enough time to Parliament, Mr Raab said: “Ultimately it’s for the voters of any MP to decide if they have the right priorities. At every election they get the chance to scrutinise their MP. It is up to his voters to decide if they have the priorities.”

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