Sir Geoffrey Cox 'does not believe he breached rules' amid sleaze claims

·4-min read

A senior Conservative MP under scrutiny over his extra earnings for legal work has defended himself - and declared it is up to his constituents to vote him out if they are unhappy about it.

Sir Geoffrey Cox's entry in the register of members' interests shows he earned more than £800,000 while working for law firm Withers, which is representing the British Virgin Islands government in a corruption case brought by the UK government.

A statement from his office said that he has always been clear with constituents about his work outside parliament and that "Sir Geoffrey regularly works 70-hour weeks and always ensures that his casework on behalf of his constituents is given primary importance and fully carried out."

It has been revealed that he voted by proxy in the House of Commons while earning hundreds of thousands of pounds for the legal work more than 4,000 miles away in the Caribbean.

According to his entry in the register of members' financial interests, Sir Geoffrey did approximately 434 hours of work for Withers between January and July this year, at an average of more than 15 hours per week.

Sir Geoffrey took part, by proxy, in Commons votes this year on the cladding scandal and on protecting the UK's steel industry.

And, by taking advantage of the Commons allowing widespread proxy voting - introduced due to the COVID-19 pandemic - Sir Geoffrey was also able to appear at a corruption inquiry held in the British Virgin Islands, a British Overseas Territory, on the same day those votes were held.

Sir Geoffrey, a practising barrister, is also facing claims that he used his parliamentary office to undertake some of his work for Withers.

Footage has emerged which appears to show Sir Geoffrey using his Commons office for such work, with him saying on a Zoom session of the British Virgin Islands Commission of Inquiry: "Forgive me for not being present this afternoon, I'm afraid I have compelling other commitments."

The MPs code of conduct states any facilities "provided from the public purse" are used "always in support of their parliamentary duties", adding: "It should not confer any undue financial benefit on themselves".

The statement posted on Sir Geoffrey's website said "he does not believe that he breached the rules" regarding use of his office but "will of course accept the judgment of the Parliamentary Commissioner or of the committee on the matter".

Sir Geoffrey also claimed he consulted the Conservative chief whip about voting by proxy while in the Caribbean and "was advised that it was appropriate".

He describes himself as a "leading barrister in England" who "makes no secret of his professional activities".

It continued: "Sir Geoffrey's view is that it is up to the electors of Torridge and West Devon whether or not they vote for someone who is a senior and distinguished professional in his field and who still practises that profession.

"That has been the consistent view of the local Conservative Association and although at every election his political opponents have sought to make a prominent issue of his professional practice, it has so far been the consistent view of the voters of Torridge and West Devon.

"Sir Geoffrey is very content to abide by their decision".

Labour's deputy leader Angela Rayner has written to the standards commissioner calling for a formal investigation into allegations Sir Geoffrey used his office for legal work.

"Once again we find Conservative MPs breaking the rules to make hundreds of thousands for themselves and see being an MP as a leg up towards making sure they can make their own personal gain," she said.

"This is not acceptable. We're here to represent our constituents, not represent ourselves. It stinks of sleaze and corruption."

Ms Rayner said being an MP was a "full-time job" and "people shouldn't be making money on the back of being an MP".

Speaking to Sky News earlier on Wednesday, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said MPs should not use their parliamentary office for work relating to their second jobs.

"You might be trying to draw me into some individual case," he said, when asked by Kay Burley what should happen to an MP if found to have done this.

"But, if someone believes for good reason that they might [be doing that] then what they should do is ask the appropriate authorities to look into it and they can get down to the facts.

"Whether it's your parliamentary office or any other parliamentary stationery or anything that's funded or supported by the taxpayer, of course, that should not be used.

"I think the rules are clear and of course all MPs would be expected to observe that at all times."

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