It was “legitimate” for former attorney general Sir Geoffrey Cox to earn hundreds of thousands of pounds advising the British Virgin Islands in a corruption probe launched by the Foreign Office, the Cabinet minister who set up the inquiry has said.
Dominic Raab, who as foreign secretary launched the commission of inquiry into what he called “very serious” allegations in the governance of the islands, said it was useful for Parliament to have some knowledge of what was going on in the overseas territory.
But Mr Raab, who is now Justice Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister, said it is for voters to decide whether they feel Sir Geoffrey is dedicating enough time to being an MP.
The most recent register of financial interests showed that Sir Geoffrey will earn more than £800,000 from Withers, an international law firm appointed by the British Virgin Islands (BVI) government in January.
In the latest update, the Torridge and West Devon Conservative MP disclosed that, from September 28 this year until further notice, he will be paid £400,000 a year by Withers for up to 41 hours of work a month.
The documents show Sir Geoffrey also received from Withers this year:
£52,535.84 for 60 hours of work between January 25 and February 28
£45,354.48 for 55 hours of work between February 28 and March 26
£72,569.39 for 89 hours of work between March 26 and April 29
£156,916.08 for 140 hours of work between April 29 and May 31
£63,143.03 for 50 hours of work between June 1 and June 30
and £46,716.29 for 40 hours of work between July 1 and July 31
He also registered a total of £133,603.84 for other legal work.
Mr Raab told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that it is not for him to “get comfortable with” the situation.
“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,” he said.
And he added that such an arrangement is a “legitimate thing to do as long as it is properly declared”.
Mr Raab told LBC that it is “precisely because of the transparency that’s required” that the public knows about the set-up.
And 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.”
The BVI government announced in April that Sir Geoffrey was in quarantine and would “hold a series of meetings with government ministers in the next few weeks”.
Among the allegations being examined in the investigation are that public servants, community leaders and people in the media had been intimidated to such a degree that they spoke of living in a “climate of fear”.
It was claimed that funds set aside for struggling families during the pandemic had been “reallocated to political allies”, while government contracts had been awarded without any proper procurement process.
At the same time, there were concerns over the misuse of taxpayers’ money on infrastructure projects and about the “potential vulnerability” of the islands to serious organised crime.
Those worries were underlined last November with the seizure of more than two tones of cocaine worth almost £190 million.
The Daily Mail reported that Sir Geoffrey voted remotely in Parliament using coronavirus contingency measures while in the Caribbean.
And Hansard records show Sir Geoffrey has spoken in one debate in the Commons this year.
Labour Party chairwoman Anneliese Dodds has written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson about the case, saying it is a “question of leadership”.
The PA news agency has contacted Sir Geoffrey’s office for comment.
The row is the latest in days of allegations over Tory sleaze, which started last Wednesday when MPs were ordered to vote for a new committee to consider an altered system of appeals after former environment secretary Owen Paterson was sanctioned, only for ministers to backtrack hours later after opposition parties refused to co-operate.
During a three-hour emergency debate on standards on Monday, Mr Johnson was accused of “running scared” after deciding to follow through with his visit to an NHS hospital trust in Northumberland on Monday rather than be present to hear MPs’ criticisms of his Government’s handling of the Paterson affair.