Geoffrey Cox: More Tory MPs making money from firms linked to Caribbean tax havens

Opposition parties and campaigners call for end to overseas-linked second jobs

Adam Forrest
Wednesday 10 November 2021 11:48
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Geoffrey Cox accused of working second job from Commons office

Boris Johnson’s government is facing fresh calls to crack down on second jobs as several more Conservative MPs hold lucrative roles with firms based in Caribbean tax havens, according to analysis by The Independent.

The former attorney general Sir Geoffrey Cox is under fire over his legal earnings of almost £1m, having reportedly advised the British Virgin Islands about a corruption probe launched by the Foreign Office.

Two former frontbenchers are among a group of Tory MPs who – like Sir Geoffrey – are topping up their Commons salaries through businesses with links to countries notorious for tax avoidance.

The Tory MP Bill Wiggin has earned more than £74,000 from directorship roles for “fund platforms” in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands over the past year.

On top of £49,000 earnings from a Bermuda-based asset management company, the former shadow Welsh secretary has also received fees of about £22,000, and £3,000 in bonuses, according to the register of members’ interests.

Fellow Conservative MP Liam Fox, the former trade secretary, has a £10,000 contract with WorldPR – a Panama-based company that provides PR advice in business and politics.

Meanwhile, the Tory MP Richard Drax has an interest in a sugar plantation in Barbados. The latest register of interests shows that he is “currently administering a business property in Barbados” that he is set to inherit from his family.

Mr Drax has faced calls from campaigners to pay reparations to the people of Barbados after it emerged that his ancestors had a slave workforce at the plantation from 1640 to 1836.

The MP said last year he was “keenly aware of the slave trade in the West Indies and the role my very distant ancestor played in it is deeply, deeply regrettable, but no one can be held responsible today for what happened many hundreds of years ago”.

The secretary of state for Scotland, Alister Jack, owned more than £70,000 of shares in Jardine Matheson Holdings – a firm incorporated in Bermuda – but the MP sold them in 2017 following criticism from opposition parties.

There is no suggestion these MPs have broken any parliamentary rules. However, opposition parties and campaigners have called for an end to overseas-linked second jobs, which they say could create potential conflicts of interest.

Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, told The Independent: “Labour would crack down on tax havens so our schools and hospitals get every penny they need.”

She added: “This Conservative government has failed to crack down on tax avoidance and these glaring conflicts of interest suggest many in the Conservative Party are happy with that.”

Susan Hawley, the executive director at Spotlight on Corruption, said: “The public have a right to know that when MPs vote on important matters – which may include issues relating to tax havens and offshore business – their judgement isn’t clouded by their private work.”

The campaigner added: “We need to ask seriously whether just declaring interests is enough any more. A full cross-party review into MPs’ outside interests is very welcome and long overdue.”

Christine Jardine, the Lib Dems’ Treasury spokesperson, said: “These new revelations show just how out of touch Conservative MPs are. This proves the urgent need for an independent inquiry into MPs lobbying on behalf of companies they are in the pocket of.”

Meanwhile, Sir Geoffrey could face an investigation by the Commons standards tsar over claims he “broke the rules” by using his parliamentary office for his second job offering legal advice.

The Times reported that the former attorney general – who has faced criticism over his outside earnings of almost £1m since the start of 2020 – used his Westminster office to participate remotely in advising the British Virgin Islands government over a corruption investigation.

In a statement on Wednesday, Sir Geoffrey said he did not believe he had breached parliamentary rules.

Ms Rayner said the alleged use of the office appeared to be “an egregious, brazen breach of the rules” and has written to the standards commissioner, Kathryn Stone, asking her for “guidance on beginning a formal investigation on this matter”.

The Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, has said his party would back a ban on MPs being able to hold consultancy roles and directorships.

Mr Johnson’s spokesperson said the prime minister opposed an “outright ban” on MPs having second jobs. However, he refused to say what “outright” meant – leaving open the option of supporting a ban on the most controversial jobs, such as working as consultants.

The Independent has contacted Sir Geoffrey, Mr Wiggin, Mr Fox, Mr Drax and Mr Jack for comment.

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