LONDON – A British lawmaker defended his 400,000-pound ($540,000) a year second job on Wednesday, as calls grew for a crackdown on politicians earning outside income.
And amid a swirl of allegations about lobbying and cronyism by members of the governing Conservative Party, Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisted: “The U.K. is not remotely a corrupt country.”
Conservative legislator Geoffrey Cox, a former U.K. attorney general, said his work as a lawyer did not take him away from representing constituents in the southwest England district he represents in Parliament.
Cox has been under fire for earning several times his 82,000-pound ($110,000) politician’s salary doing legal work, including advising the government of the British Virgin Islands in a corruption inquiry. He was allowed to vote by proxy in Parliament while he was in the Caribbean country, a British overseas territory.
A statement on Cox’s website said the lawmaker “regularly works 70-hour weeks and always ensures that his casework on behalf of his constituents is given primary importance and fully carried out.”
The statement said 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.”
Members of Parliament are allowed to earn outside income, as long as they declare it and it does not shade into lobbying. According to Cox’s declaration, he is paid 400,000 pounds a year for up to 41 hours’ work a month.
Angela Rayner, deputy leader of the main opposition Labour Party, said that level of outside work was unacceptable.
“We’re here to represent our constituents, not represent ourselves, and it stinks of sleaze and corruption,” she said.
Johnson said Britain had a centuries-old tradition of members of Parliament having jobs outside politics, “as doctors, lawyers or soldiers or firefighters or writers, or all sorts of other trades and callings.”
“But, if that system is going to continue today, then it is crucial that MPs follow the rules," Johnson said at a news conference in Glasgow, where he was attending the COP26 climate summit.
“And 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 focus on Cox’s income comes as Johnson’s government battles to tamp down allegations of corruption that were triggered when it tried to engineer a change in the system that oversees lawmakers’ standards.
Last week the government tried to block the suspension of a Conservative lawmaker found guilty of breaching the rules by lobbying on behalf of two companies that were paying him more than 100,000 pounds ($137,000) a year. Instead of suspending Owen Paterson for 30 days as recommended by the House of Commons standards committee, Conservative legislators were ordered by the government to oppose suspension and instead to call for an overhaul of the whole standards process.
The government changed course the next day after a furious backlash, but now is under growing pressure to tighten up the rules.
The lobbying episode was the latest fuel for allegations that Johnson and his Conservative government don’t follow rules that apply to everyone else.
Lawsuits have been launched over the government’s awarding of tens of millions of pounds (dollars) in contracts to provide equipment and services during the coronavirus pandemic — often in haste and with little oversight.
Home Secretary Priti Patel was allowed to keep her job after she was found to have bullied members of staff. Johnson himself has been criticized for accepting expensive holidays on the Caribbean island of Mustique and in Spain, and faces investigation by Parliament’s standards watchdog over the source of the money that was used to refurbish his apartment in the prime minister’s official Downing Street residence