UK

Under-fire Boris STILL refuses to apologise over Owen Paterson sleaze debacle

Boris Johnson again refused to apologise for the Owen Paterson sleaze debacle tonight as he insisted MPs’ second jobs ‘strengthen democracy’ – but swiped at Geoffrey Cox saying their ‘primary’ duty is to the Commons.    

The PM was hit with a barrage of questions about the wave of allegations facing Tories as he held a press conference at the COP26 summit in Glasgow

Mr Johnson repeatedly dodged demands on whether he would say sorry for the abortive bid to overhaul standards rules and save Mr Paterson from lobbying punishment last week.

He stressed that for ‘hundreds of years’ politicians had been able to do outside work, but made clear that could not include paid lobbying and they ‘must put your job as an MP first’.  

The crisis shows no sign of easing today, with former Attorney General Sir Geoffrey sounding defiance after coming under more fire over his £1million-a-year legal work.

Footage has emerged appearing to show the eminent QC representing the British Virgin Islands at a fraud commission by video-link from his Commons office.

Labour has demanded a standards probe, while ministers have admitted that using parliamentary facilities for work is against the rules.  

Mr Johnson has dropped plans for a Cabinet away-day at Chequers tomorrow as the frenzy threatens to engulf the party.

Meanwhile, Andrew Bowie, tipped as a rising star, has stepped back from his role as a Conservative vice-chair role. He insisted he wants to focus on his Scottish constituency, but has reportedly told friends he is ‘unable to support the government’ in the wake of the Owen Paterson debacle.  

Ministers have been trying to pour cold water on the idea of full ban on MPs having second jobs. Health Secretary Sajid Javid suggested some politicians would opt to leave parliament, and stressed that the Commons benefits from people being connected to the outside world.  

Labour accused Mr Johnson of using the day-trip to Scotland as a ‘distraction’ from the sleaze row. It is unclear why the premier has chosen to go today, as many had expected him to go towards the end of the week when talks are at a crunch point.  

Boris Johnson pictured at the COP26 summit today, where he is running the gauntlet of a press conference

Boris Johnson pictured at the COP26 summit today, where he is running the gauntlet of a press conference

Mr Johnson at a COP26 meeting today, where he is trying to boost negotiations on deal to tackle climate climate change

Mr Johnson at a COP26 meeting today, where he is trying to boost negotiations on deal to tackle climate climate change  

Sir Geoffrey Cox has been referred to the Commons standards tsar over claims he broke Commons rules by using his parliamentary office to offer legal advice to the British Virgin Islands

Sir Geoffrey Cox has been referred to the Commons standards tsar over claims he broke Commons rules by using his parliamentary office to offer legal advice to the British Virgin Islands

Mr Bowie said today that he wanted to 'focus on representing my constituents'

Mr Bowie said today that he wanted to ‘focus on representing my constituents’

FACT BOX TITLE

The Tories were plunged into a sleaze civil war today after MP Geoffrey Cox dramatically claimed ministers signed off on him voting from the Caribbean – where he was pursuing his £1m-a-year legal sideline.

The former Attorney General dragged Mark Spencer into the storm as he insisted voters in his Devon constituency are well aware they are represented by a ‘senior and distinguished’ QC. 

He also rejected claims he flouted ‘basic’ regulations by conducting a hearing at a corruption commission into the British Virgin Islands by video-link from his parliamentary office.

Sir Geoffrey – believed to be abroad – broke cover to heap more woe on Boris Johnson by issuing the extraordinary statement after days of allegations.

A spokesman for Mr Spencer admitted that Sir Geoffrey had received approval to vote by proxy in the spring, with the pandemic running hot.

But they denied that the MP had been told it was ‘appropriate’ to be in the Caribbean, suggesting he mentioned in passing he would be abroad. 

‘Around 330 Conservative MPs – and a majority of opposition MPs – were granted Covid proxy votes in order to assist with tackling the pandemic at a time when physical attendance in the Commons was actively discouraged by the Parliamentary authorities,’ the spokesman said.

‘All MPs were expected to follow proceedings and participate virtually. They were also expected to continue performing their primary task of serving their constituents.’ 

Shadow business secretary Ed Miliband said: ‘It’s hard to avoid the suspicion that the prime minister sees a day trip to the COP as a useful way of distracting from the sleaze surrounding the Tory party rather than a chance to get a grip and engage in the substance like a statesman.

‘It’s high time Boris Johnson recognised that he is not a commentator but needs to take charge of a summit that is not on track to deliver.’

Mr Johnson arrived at the COP26 summit by train this afternoon, having been criticised for flying in and out of Glasgow when he kicked the gathering off last week. 

Tory sources indicated the vice-chair position would be held open for Mr Bowie should he wish to return.

But a friend told the Reaction website: ‘He doesn’t want to make a fuss but he’s unable to support the government after the events of recent days.’ 

The MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine has a narrow majority, holding the seat in 2019 by only 843 votes in the face of an SNP surge.

When first elected in 2017, Mr Bowie enjoyed a majority of almost 8,000 after being bolstered by a 19 point swing to the Tories. 

As the pressure increases on Mr Johnson, Labour former PM Gordon Brown said he backs an ‘outright ban’ on MPs ‘using a public office for private gain’.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I think, where there’s a conflict of interest using a public office for private gain, it should be banned outright and I’ve always said this.

‘I think there are three issues that have now got to be dealt with. One is these conflicts of interest – we’ve got to have tighter rules. Secondly, we’re now dealing with dubious appointments, for example, to the House of Lords – we’ve got to do something about this – and, thirdly, I think there’s a bigger issue emerging about foreign money entering British politics. 

‘All these issues will have to be addressed, otherwise this will become a Parliament which will be increasingly identified with sleaze and increasingly identified with private interests overcoming what should be what MPs are all about and that is representing the public interest.’ 

Sir Geoffrey finally came out fighting today over his £1m-a-year legal sideline saying the chief whip approved him going to the Caribbean while the Commons sat.

The former Attorney General took aim at Mark Spencer as he insisted it is for voters in his Devon constituency to decide whether they wanted to be represented by a ‘senior and distinguished’ QC. 

He also denied breaching rules by apparently attending a hearing at a corruption commission on the British Virgin Islands by video-link from his parliamentary office.

Scottish First minister Nicola Sturgeon was also at the COP26 summit in Glasgow today

Scottish First minister Nicola Sturgeon was also at the COP26 summit in Glasgow today 

Mr Johnson is hoping to put rocket boosters under the climate change negotiations, but could be derailed by the ongoing sleaze rows

Mr Johnson is hoping to put rocket boosters under the climate change negotiations, but could be derailed by the ongoing sleaze rows

Sir Geoffrey broke cover for the first time – despite being believed to be abroad – after days of silence amid the allegations.

Boris Johnson is desperately struggling to contain the wider sleaze furore after his abortive bid to save Owen Paterson from punishment for lobbying. The PM is set to be grilled at a press conference at 4.30pm, where he had hoped to focus on progress at the COP26 summit in Glasgow. 

A statement posted on Sir Geoffrey’s website said he ‘regularly works 70-hour weeks and always ensures that his casework on behalf of his constituents is given primary importance and fully carried out’. 

He said spending weeks on the British Virgin Islands this spring ‘made no difference.. since it was not practicable or desirable at that time to meet face to face’. 

‘As to the use of the proxy, prior to his visit to the BVI, he consulted the Chief Whip specifically on this issue and was advised that it was appropriate,’ the statement said.

‘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 practices 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.’

The bullish stance came after a stormy phone conversation with the chief whip last night, in which Sir Geoffrey was ordered to spend more time in Parliament.

A Government source said Mr Spencer had ‘reminded him he needs to be physically present in Parliament, representing his constituents’. 

The former Cabinet minister has been heavily rebuked following revelations he has been working in the Caribbean tax haven

The former Cabinet minister has been heavily rebuked following revelations he has been working in the Caribbean tax haven

The chair of the standards committee, Labour MP Chris Bryant, said this morning that the regulations against using parliamentary offices for outside business were ‘really important’.

‘You might end up occasionally meeting other people in your office but you’re not meant to run a commercial operation out of your taxpayer-funded office either in Parliament or in your constituency – it’s a really important, I’d have thought, kind of basic rule,’ he told BBC Breakfast.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid was asked during a round of interviews whether MPs should be able to use their office for work connected with a second job. He replied: ‘No.’  

Mr Javid insisted MPs should ‘spend the vast majority of their time’ on parliamentary and constituency duties, but also cautioned that a complete ban could lead to some politicians leaving the House. 

‘I think it’s right that those rules allow that flexibility, but I think the most important thing really is that MP, whoever he or she may be, is completely transparent and open, follows all the rules, so that their constituents and the wider public know that they might have another interest,’ he said.

‘Also, I think it’s important that they continue to spend the vast majority of their time on their parliamentary affairs and their constituency affairs.’

Aviation minister Robert Courts said: ‘There is an experience that is brought to MPs through having jobs, whatever those jobs might be.’

Asked about giving up his work as a barrister, he told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme: ‘I took the view that I wasn’t going to practise after I was elected in 2016 and I haven’t.

‘That was the decision I took. I decided that I wanted to be an MP and I was going to give all of the time to being an MP, and obviously, now being a minister, even more, of course.

‘I think the key thing that we have to look at here is that there is an experience that is brought to MPs through having jobs, whatever those jobs might be.

‘We also have MPs who have all sorts of experience in other areas, for example doctors and nurses. There are people who are serving MPs who practise in the front line at the NHS, and I think the House of Commons is richer for that.’


Source link

Related Articles

Back to top button