Is he sincere? Too little, too late! – Owl
Aubrey Allegretti www.theguardian.com
Boris Johnson has bowed to pressure from Labour to take tougher action against MPs with second jobs, as he sought to avoid haemorrhaging further public support in the wake of sleaze scandals that have engulfed the Conservative party in recent weeks.
The prime minister said MPs who prioritise outside financial interests over their job representing constituents should be investigated and “appropriately punished”, and all MPs should be banned from acting as paid political lobbyists.
The move came at the end of a humiliating episode for Johnson, when, after two weeks, the government finally U-turned on its plan to save the Tory ex-cabinet minister Owen Paterson from suspension by approving a report that found he committed an “egregious” breach of lobbying rules, which it had initially blocked.
MPs’ second jobs have also been in the spotlight recently after it was revealed that the former attorney general Geoffrey Cox had earned hundreds of thousands of pounds for legal work, appeared to use his parliamentary office to attend a hearing remotely, and voted by proxy from the Caribbean.
Johnson wrote to the Commons Speaker on Tuesday, just as the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, was due to give a speech challenging ministers to support a tougher approach to MPs’ outside financial interests.
The prime minister said the MPs’ code of conduct should be updated so their work “continues to command the confidence of the public”, and added that any elected legislator’s “primary role” should be “to serve their constituents”.
Johnson said he supported two recommendations made in a 2018 report by the Committee on Standards in Public Life. The first said MPs should not undertake any extra employment that would “prevent them from carrying out their range of duties”.
The second said MPs should not receive “any paid work to provide services as a parliamentary strategist, adviser or consultant”, for example by advising on “how to influence parliament and its members”.
Johnson said adopting these suggestions would “form the basis of viable approach which could command the confidence of parliamentarians and the public”.
He added it was “a matter of regret” the suggestions made a year before he won the keys to Downing Street had not been implemented already, and voiced his support for them being “adopted as a matter of urgency”.
The move represents an about-turn for Johnson, who has resisted backing calls over the past few weeks for tougher action against MPs’ second jobs.
It is also likely to rile some of the more traditional members of his party, whom Johnson has previously defended and said that their expertise in fields outside politics was actually a positive.
The announcement came as Starmer was preparing to announce an opposition day motion to be put forward in the Commons on Wednesday that called for all of the recommendations of the Committee on Standards in Public Life to be implemented.
When he was told of Johnson’s intervention at a press conference on Tuesday, Starmer said: “So we’ve won the vote tomorrow already.”