Former UK minister embroiled in sleaze row defends conduct

·2-min read

A Conservative lawmaker at the centre of a sleaze row in Britain following reports he used his parliamentary office for lucrative private work insisted Wednesday he had not broken the rules.

In a lengthy defence of his conduct, Geoffrey Cox claimed he always gave constituency work "primary importance" and said he would accept the judgment of parliamentary standards watchdogs now probing his case.

"He does not believe that he breached the rules but will of course accept the judgment of the Parliamentary Commissioner or of the Committee on the matter," his office said in a statement.

Cox, a lawyer and former attorney general, reportedly earned more than £1 million ($1.4 million, 1.2 million euros) in the last year for legal work, while still collecting his annual MP's salary of around £82,000.

He netted the lucrative sums in part for advising the government of the British Virgin Islands, a UK overseas territory and tax haven accused of corruption, the Daily Mail reported.

The revelations have intensified the pressure on Prime Minister Boris Johnson, following days of criticism over sleaze and cronyism claims against his government which began with the botched handling of another Conservative lawmaker's case.

Johnson sparked outrage last week when he tried to overhaul parliament's internal disciplinary process, which would have prevented the 30-day suspension of Owen Paterson.

Paterson was found to have committed an "egregious" rules breach, after repeatedly lobbying ministers and officials on behalf of two companies paying him more than £100,000 a year.

Although Johnson swiftly abandoned the unprecedented overhaul attempts -- prompting Paterson to resign from parliament -- it led to fierce criticism and threw the spotlight on a raft of allegations around MPs' behaviour.

- 'Appropriate' -

British lawmakers are permitted to hold second jobs, so long as they declare them, but are not allowed to use their parliamentary offices or resources for such work.

On Wednesday, a video emerged appearing to show Cox -- who has represented a safe seat in Devon, southwest England, since 2005 -- undertaking his private work in September from his Westminster office.

The 61-year-old Tory also used changes to parliamentary attendance rules brought in during the coronavirus pandemic to vote remotely in the House of Commons from the Caribbean while working there.

In his statement, Cox's office said he had consulted the Conservatives' chief whip -- another MP charged with enforcing party discipline -- and "was advised that it was appropriate" to do so.

It also argued he "regularly works 70-hour weeks and always ensures that his casework on behalf of his constituents is given primary importance and fully carried out".

"Sir Geoffrey's view is that it is up to the electors of Torridge and West Devon whether or not they vote for someone who is a senior and distinguished professional in his field and who still practices that profession," it added, referring to his constituency.

"Sir Geoffrey is very content to abide by their decision."

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