Rules don’t apply to Tories # 3

Boris Johnson has said that anyone “prioritising outside interests” and neglecting their constituents should face investigation.

Geoffrey Cox again found working as lawyer while parliament sits

Rowena Mason 

Geoffrey Cox has again appeared as a lawyer for the British Virgin Islands (BVI) inquiry while parliament is sitting, calling into question whether he is meeting the prime minister’s demands for MPs to put their duty to their constituents first.

Cox, who has earned about £1m from legal work over the last year, joined the BVI commission of inquiry into allegations of corruption for two hours while the House of Commons was sitting on Wednesday afternoon.

Angela Rayner, the Labour deputy leader, said Cox was “taking the mick” and called it a “test of leadership” for the prime minister. “The prime minister is letting him get away with it,” she added.

Cox has come under scrutiny over his outside earnings since it emerged that he had been voting by proxy in parliament from the BVI during the pandemic. It subsequently became clear he had skipped at least 12 votes on days when he was doing paid legal work, after the proxy voting allowances ended.

Since then, Boris Johnson has backed the idea of banning MPs from working as paid parliamentary consultants or advisers and said that anyone “prioritising outside interests” and neglecting their constituents should face investigation.

However, it is not clear exactly how many MPs and their second jobs this could cover. A Guardian analysis found it would be likely to affect fewer than 10 of those with outside interests if the limit were set at 20 hours a week as suggested by the cabinet minister Ann-Marie Trevelyan.

Cox’s average time spent on legal work is only slightly more than that amount, raising the prospect that he could just reduce his hours by a bit.

Cox has been approached for comment. He previously defended his outside interests by arguing 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”.

He was asked to advise the BVI government and has described his role at the hearings as being “to assist the public inquiry in getting to the truth”.

The most recent update to the MPs’ register of interests shows that Cox earned £54,404.49 in August for approximately 45 hours of legal work. His salary as an MP is £81,932 a year.

The Commons standards committee is conducting a review of the MPs’ code of conduct rules, including the rules around outside work, and is due to publish a report on the issue on Monday, according to its chair, Chris Bryant.