British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has dismissed claims that corruption was rife in the UK, as his ruling Conservative Party was embroiled in a slew of high-profile sleaze allegations about MPs with second jobs.
Revelations that the former attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, used his parliamentary office for lucrative private work have triggered a standards inquiry, even as he maintained he had not broken any rules.
It came after Johnson last week tried – and failed – to change the rules on sanctioning errant MPs, when another Tory MP, Owen Paterson, was found to have lobbied ministers for two firms that had him on the payroll.
Both cases have opened up MPs to renewed scrutiny about potential conflicts of interest, more than a decade after a scandal over expenses that caused public anger and prompted a string of resignations.
But Johnson told reporters on a flying visit to the United Nations climate change summit in Glasgow: “I genuinely believe that the UK is not remotely a corrupt country. Nor do I believe that our institutions are corrupt.”
Cox defends second job
Cox, the former attorney general, on Wednesday defended his 400,000-pound ($540,000) a year second job, insisting he had not broken any rules.
He said his work as a lawyer did not take him away from representing constituents in the southwest England district he represents in Parliament.
Cox has been under fire for earning several times his 82,000-pound ($110,000) politician’s salary doing legal work, including advising the government of the British Virgin Islands in a corruption inquiry.
He was allowed to vote by proxy in Parliament while he was in the Caribbean country, a British overseas territory.
While carrying out external work is allowed, the Times newspaper published a video on Wednesday which appeared to show Cox taking part in a legal hearing from his parliamentary office, an apparent breach of the rules.
In a defence of his second job, Geoffrey Cox claimed he gave “primary importance and fully carried out” his work in his constituency.
“He does not believe that he breached the rules but will of course accept the judgment of the Parliamentary Commissioner or of the Committee on the matter,” Cox’s office said in a statement on his website.
Members of Parliament are allowed to earn outside income, as long as they declare it and it does not shade into lobbying. According to Cox’s declaration, he is paid 400,000 pounds a year for up to 41 hours’ work a month.
‘Insult to taxpayers’
Deputy leader of the main opposition Labour Party Angela Rayner said Cox must be investigated.
“Geoffrey Cox using his taxpayer-funded office in Parliament to work for a tax haven under investigation for corruption is a brazen breach of the rules and an insult to taxpayers,” she tweeted.
“I have written to the Commissioner for Standards urging an investigation,” she added.
Geoffrey Cox using his taxpayer-funded office in Parliament to work for a tax haven under investigation for corruption is a brazen breach of the rules and an insult to taxpayers.
I have written to the Commissioner for Standards urging an investigation. pic.twitter.com/IP7dxr0p78
— Angela Rayner (@AngelaRayner) November 10, 2021
The controversy on Cox’s second income comes as Johnson’s government battles to dismiss allegations of corruption that were triggered when it tried to engineer a change in the system that oversees politicians’ standards.
The UK leader sparked outrage last week when he attempted to overhaul parliament’s internal disciplinary process, after the House of Commons standards committee recommended a Conservative Party legislator be suspended for 30 days.
Owen Paterson was found to have committed an “egregious” rules breach, after he repeatedly lobbied ministers and officials on behalf of two companies paying him more than £100,000 a year.
The government changed course the next day, but now is under growing pressure to tighten up the rules. While Paterson ultimately resigned, Johnson’s handling of the affair badly damaged party morale.
The episode was the latest fuel for allegations that Johnson and his Conservative government do not follow rules that apply to everyone else.
Lawsuits have been launched over the government’s awarding of tens of millions of pounds (dollars) in contracts to provide equipment and services during the coronavirus pandemic – often in haste and with little oversight.