Tory unrest grows over Boris move to curb MPs’ second jobs

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Tory unrest grows over Boris move to curb MPs’ second jobs
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Boris Johnson was today facing a backlash from Conservative backbenchers over his plans to ban MPs from cashing in on second jobs outside of Parliament.

The Prime Minister wants to stop MPs being paid as parliamentary strategists and to limit the amount of time they spend on second roles outside the House of Commons.

Amid a growing storm over parliamentary sleaze following the Owen Paterson affair, Labour says it wants the Government to go further by barring all second jobs except for a number of limited exceptions and for the Committee on Standards to draw up proposals to implement changes by the end of January.

After appearing in front of Parliament’s liaison committee this afternoon, Mr Johnson will face a potentially stormy meeting with his own backbenchers on the powerful 1922 committee this evening.

While Tory MPs were likely to back the Government’s plan in a vote, Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Conservative MP and treasurer of the committee, said there was “dissatisfaction” among backbenchers at the way the sleaze storm had been handled. There are also questions over which jobs will be allowed and how any new rules will be policed.

Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme if there was “frustration” among backbenchers, Sir Geoffrey said: “There is and clearly the whole issue of standards, the motion tabled before the House and then a complete U-turn, there is dissatisfaction on the backbenches. That is why the Prime Minister needs to make it very clear to Members of Parliament what he expects from us.”

Stephen Hammond, Tory MP for Wimbledon, told the Standard the move was “rushed”. He said: “Both the Labour and Conservative motions are rushed solutions to an issue that needs thought. It would have been much better if both sides agree to let the standards committee reassess and then agree to take their recommendations forward.”

Another senior Tory added: “This has become a political spitting match which is the worst way to settle anything. This needs to be calmly sorted out.

“The Government is proposing something that is very vague and wishy-washy... there is growing concern about the 24-hour nature of decision making.”

Three years after it was published, Mr Johnson now wants MPs to support a move to endorse a 2018 report by the committee for standards in public life — including key proposals to ban MPs working as parliamentary consultants or advisers and to limit any outside activity “within reasonable limits” to ensure it doesn’t impact on their “full range of duties”.

International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan said today that MPs would not be judged on the amount of money they earn from outside roles but by the number of hours they devoted to second jobs.

She told BBC Breakfast: “I think there is a common sense test which is if you probably do 40 to 50 hours a week doing your main job, doing 10 or 15 hours a week doing something else, whatever you choose to do in your spare time ... is something that is part of the richness of what you bring as an individual to your role as an MP.”

Ms Trevelyan added that she welcomed the Prime Minister’s move to tighten the code of conduct following damaging allegations over a number of Tory MPs’ outside interests, including the former attorney general Sir Geoffrey Cox, who has earned about £1 million from his work as a lawyer in the past year. He denies breaking any rules.

“I was really pleased to see the Prime Minister’s letter yesterday,” Ms Trevelyan said. “I think he raises two particular points from the 2018 report which I think are very sound, and I would expect will command cross-party support from the vast majority of my colleagues.”

The sleaze storm exploded two weeks ago following the Government’s botched attempts to block a suspension for Mr Paterson, former Tory MP for North Shropshire, after he was found guilty of an “egregious” breach of lobbying rules, while a review was launched into the standards watchdog.

Although the Government U-turned within 24 hours and Mr Paterson resigned two days later, the controversy triggered damaging allegations over MPs’ second jobs and outside interests.

In a bid to keep up the pressure, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer yesterday set out a five-point plan to clean up Parliament, including tougher rules on Ministers taking up lucrative private sector roles after leaving Government. But Mr Johnson announced his own plans for reform.

Shadow Commons leader Thangam Debbonaire said an independent watchdog would be appointed to look at which second jobs would be allowed.

She said: “[Starmer] said that we should have as a principle banning second jobs, and he’s right. But he also said that we should have a way that an independent watchdog could determine whether or not there might be some exceptions, particularly where there’s a public service duty.”

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