Tory MP Geoffrey Cox could face an investigation by the Commons standards chief over claims he used his parliamentary office to carry out private work for the government of the British Virgin Islands.
The former attorney general has been accused of an “egregious, brazen breach of the rules” after footage emerged purporting to show him taking part in a corruption hearing in the Caribbean country remotely from his Westminster office.
The Torridge and West Devon MP refused to deny using his parliamentary office for private business when approached by The Times over the matter. The Independent has contacted Sir Geoffrey for comment.
Labour says it believes the incident could be a breach of parliamentary code, which states MPs “shall ensure that their use of public resources is always in support of their parliamentary duties”, and has referred Sir Geoffrey to Commons standards chief Kathryn Stone.
“This appears to be an egregious, brazen breach of the rules. A Conservative MP using a taxpayer funded office in Parliament to work for a tax haven facing allegations of corruption is a slap in the face and an insult to British taxpayers,” Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said.
“The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards must investigate this, and the prime minister needs to explain why he has an MP in his parliamentary party that treats Parliament like a co-working space allowing him to get on with all of his other jobs instead of representing his constituents.
“You can be an MP serving your constituents or a barrister working for a tax haven - you can’t be both and Boris Johnson needs to make his mind up as to which one Geoffrey Cox will be.”
In footage uploaded online of a British Virgin Islands commission of inquiry hearing on 14 September, Sir Geoffrey can be heard telling the commissioner: “Forgive my absence during some of the morning - I’m afraid the bell went off.”
The bell referred to could be the division bell that sounds off across the parliament estate to alert MPs to a vote taking place.
Earlier in the proceedings, Sir Geoffrey appears to vacate his seat for about 20 minutes at around the two-hour mark in the video footage.
His Commons voting record shows that he voted in person on six occasions on 14 September to push through the Government’s health and social care levy.
Sir Geoffrey is already under fire after it emerged he voted in the Commons by proxy during lockdown earlier this year while he spent four weeks working 4,000 miles away in the British Virgin Islands.
The most recent register of financial interests showed he will earn more than £800,000 from Withers, an international law firm appointed by the British Virgin Islands government in January.
Sir Geoffrey also disclosed in the register that from September 28 this year until further notice, he will be paid £400,000 a year by Withers for up to 41 hours of work per month.
The MPs’ Code of Conduct states that “members are personally responsible and accountable for ensuring that their use of any expenses, allowances, facilities and services provided from the public purse is... always in support of their parliamentary duties. It should not confer any undue personal or financial benefit on themselves”.
This is one of the rules the Parliamentary standards commissioner found Owen Paterson broke before the Standards Committee recommended he should be suspended from the House of Commons for 30 days.
Mr Paterson later resigned after the government’s decision to whip Tory MPs to block his suspension was met with backlash.
Boris Johnson had refused to intervene in the growing row surrounding Sir Geoffrey on Tuesday, saying the controversy was not a matter for him.
Asked if it was “appropriate” for the former attorney general to have worked in the British Virgin Islands, the prime minister’s spokesman said the “rules are set” by the Commons – not by No 10.
Asked, three times, if the government would quiz Sir Geoffrey over his activities earlier this year, the spokesman declined to say that he would.
Ducking the question about whether his behaviour was acceptable, but said: “The prime minister’s view is that MPs’ primary job is and must be to serve their constituents and to represent their interests in Parliament.
“They should be visible in their constituencies and available to help constituents with their constituency matters.
“If they’re not doing that, they’re not doing their job, and will be rightly judged on that by their constituents.”
Additional reporting by PA
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