Former Cabinet minister Sir Geoffrey Cox could face an investigation by the Commons standards tsar over claims he breached rules by using his parliamentary office for his second job offering legal advice.
Facing mounting pressure to quit, the senior Conservative MP has come under fire for using his Westminster officer to remotely advise the British Virgin Islands (BVI) in a corruption probe launched by the Foreign Office, The Times reports.
The former attorney general has earned hundreds of thousands of pounds for his work with the islands, prompting Labour to call for a standards investigation into a possible rule breach.
The most recent register of financial interests showed that Sir Geoffrey, an MP for Torridge and West Devon, will earn more than £800,000 from Withers, an international law firm appointed by the BVI 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.
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said the alleged use of the office appeared to be “an egregious, brazen breach of the rules” and has written to standards commissioner Kathryn Stone asking her for “guidance on beginning a formal investigation on this matter”.
Ms Rayner said in her letter that the MP’s code of conduct was “very clear” that elected representatives ensure that “any facilities and services provided from the public purse is… always in support of their parliamentary duties” and “should not confer any… financial benefit on themselves”.
She added: “The member has clearly broken this rule based on the media reports we have seen.
“Members must be clear that they cannot use the estate for private financial gain and where there is such a stark conflict with public interest, they must face substantial consequences.”
Reports suggest that Sir Geoffrey, who has been an MP since 2005, was based in the Caribbean earlier this year while using lockdown proxy voting rules to continue to have his say in the Commons.
In the British Virgin Islands commission of inquiry hearing on September 14, he can be heard in the online recording 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 September 14 to push through the government’s health and social care levy.
The Liberal Democrats also waded in, with the party’s chief whip Wendy Chamberlain urging the QC to “save everyone the time and trouble of an investigation” and “come clean now”.
The row over second jobs comes in the wake of a recommendation that former environment secretary Owen Paterson’s should be suspended for six weeks after the Commons Standards Committee found he had broken the centuries-old ban on paid lobbying by MPs.
In the bitter aftermath of the row, Mr Paterson announced he was quitting as MP for North Shropshire after 24 years, as an attempt by the government to delay his punishment by ripping up the current standards system failed, when opposition parties refused to offer their support.
Sir Geoffrey’s office has been contacted for comment.