Rishi Sunak has today admitted the government needs to “do better” as allegations of sleaze and corruption pile up around the Tory party.
It comes after Boris Johnson yesterday was forced to insist during a press conference that the UK is “not remotely a corrupt country”.
Sunak told Sky News said he regretted last week’s scandal over disgraced ex-MP Owen Paterson.
“On the broader point and just reflecting over recent events, I think for us as a government, it’s fair to say that we need to do better than we did last week and we know that,” he said.
The government and Tory backbenchers teamed up last week to veto Paterson’s recommended 30-day suspension, for acting as a £100,000-a-year lobbyist for two firms, and dismantle parliament’s disciplinary processes in a series of votes.
Number 10 was forced to quickly backtrack in the face of public pressure and Paterson resigned shortly after.
The saga has launched a myriad of stories into sleaze and corruption on the Tory backbenches as a growing group of MPs come under scrutiny for having paid jobs outside parliament.
Former attorney general Geoffrey Cox has been in the eye of the media storm this week, after it was revealed that he had made hundreds of thousands of pounds for giving legal advice to the British Virgin Islands on a corruption case that has been brought forward by the UK government.
Labour has called for an investigation into Cox by Westminster’s standards commissioner, after The Times found a video that appeared to show him attending a virtual hearing on behalf of the BVI in his House of Commons office.
Business minister Paul Scully said this morning that he was not going to defend Cox’s actions.
City A.M. exclusively revealed yesterday that Rugby Conservative MP Mark Pawsey, who gets paid £30,000 a year to chair a UK packaging lobby, has spoken in parliament to call for looser environmental laws to benefit plastics producers.
When asked if an £80,000-a-year salary was enough for MPs, Sunak said: “I think people will have different motivations for doing what they do.
“The pay is set by an independent body. That’s absolutely right.
“And with regard to second jobs, there’s an independent process that we have that is set by parliament that governs all of those things and it’s absolutely right that process is followed to the letter.”
The Prime Minister was forced to field a number of questions at a Cop26 press conference yesterday about the Tory sleaze saga.
“I believe the UK is not remotely a corrupt country, nor do I believe our institutions are corrupt and I think it’s very important to say that,” he said.
He also said that MPs should not be banned from having second jobs, but warned that “the rules say two crucial things”.
“You must put your job as an MP first and you must devote yourself primarily and above all to your constituents – the people who send you to Westminster, to parliament,” Johnson said.
“They also say you should not use your position as an MP to lobby or otherwise intervene on behalf of outside commercial interests.
“It’s not that you have to register those interests, you can’t lobby or make representations while an MP on behalf of those interests. Those are the rules and they must be enforced. Those who don’t obey them should of course face sanctions.”