Senior Tory MP Geoffrey Cox has been put under more pressure this morning, after being referred to Westminster’s rules watchdog for appearing to use his parliamentary office for his work as a legal adviser to a foreign government.
Cox has said this morning he will cooperate with any probe into him, while home secretary Sajid Javid said that while he would not comment on an individual case that “no one should be using things that are funded by the taxpayer – whether that is the parliamentary office or anything else – for personal gain”.
Cox, a former attorney general under Theresa May and Boris Johnson, has been paid more than £1m in the past 12 months for work with City law firm Withers LLP, including a contract to advise the British Virgin Islands (BVI).
The job sees Cox helping defend the BVI against corruption charges being brought by the UK government.
A new video released by The Times today shows Cox virtually attending a hearing in September from what appears to be his House of Commons office – this would be a breach of parliamentary rules.
In the video a bell, believed to be the House of Commons’ division bell, can be heard in the background, with the Torridge and West Devon MP excusing himself for 20 minutes.
On his return, Cox excuses his absence and says “the bell went off”.
In a statement put out today, Cox said his work in the BVI was “not to ‘defend’ a tax haven or, as has been inaccurately reported, to defend any wrongdoing but to assist the public inquiry in getting to the truth”.
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner has written to parliamentary commissioner for standards Kathryn Stone to call for an official probe into Cox.
“This appears to be an egregious, brazen breach of the rules,” she told The Times.
“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. 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.”
Sajid Javid did not cast judgement over whether Cox had breached parliamentary rules this morning, but said that MPs should never use their parliamentary offices for other work.
“If someone believes for good reason that they might [have done], then I think what they should do is ask the appropriate authorities to look into it and they can get down to the facts,” he said.
It comes after justice secretary Dominic Raab defended Cox’s job advising the BVI yesterday.
He told Times Radio: “Now, I’m not going to get dragged into what individual MPs do, but actually having the former attorney general – and it wasn’t my decision, he was hired by the government of the BVI to advise them on how to correct and deal and address those allegations – actually, is a legitimate thing to do as long as it’s properly declared.
“And of course, it’s quite important in that Parliament, which is responsible residually for some areas of our relationship with the overseas territories, we’ve got some knowledge of what’s going on in those territories.”