Rishi Sunak swipes at Boris over Tory sleaze chaos


Cabinet tensions over sleaze burst into the open today as Rishi Sunak swiped at Boris Johnson over the sleaze chaos.

The Chancellor delivered a barely-veiled rebuke to the PM saying the government ‘needs to do better’ following the aborted bid to save ex-minister Owen Paterson from punishment for lobbying. 

The barb came as Mr Johnson gathered his senior team in Downing Street to take stock of the crisis amid persistent rumours of friction with Mr Sunak – who notably did not vote on the key amendment last week.

Meanwhile, the stakes in the discussions were underlined by a poll showing that the Conservatives have slumped behind Labour for the first time in a year.    

Despite increasing alarm on the Tory benches, the PM again stubbornly refused to apologise for triggering the sleaze meltdown as he was grilled during a press conference at the COP26 summit in Glasgow last night.

The Cabinet meeting is ostensibly focusing on the Levelling Up agenda, with ministers due to lay out how their department is contributing to the drive. Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey arrived armed with an A3 map seemingly to help get her message across. 

However, the political discussion is bound to return to how to quell the rising tide of criticism about second jobs, conflicting interests and cronyism among MPs.    

In an interview with Sky News this morning after new GDP figures were released, Mr Sunak struck a starkly different tone to the premier, saying he was ‘reflecting on recent events’.

‘People will have different motivations for doing what they do, the pay is set by an independent body, that’s absolutely right,’ he said.

‘And with regard to second jobs, there’s an independent process that we have that’s set by Parliament that governs all of those things. And it’s absolutely right that that process is followed to the letter.

‘Now look, on the broader point – and 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.’ 

Unlike Mr Johnson, Mr Sunak has not declared any extra earnings since becoming an MP in 2015. He is reputed to be one of the richest MPs in the Commons, partly due to his previous career in the city but also due to the multi-billion wealth of his wife’s family. 

Rishi Sunak risked inflaming internal tensions over the wave of allegations that followed the aborted bid to save ex-minister Owen Paterson from punishment for lobbying

Rishi Sunak risked inflaming internal tensions over the wave of allegations that followed the aborted bid to save ex-minister Owen Paterson from punishment for lobbying

Boris Johnson stubbornly refused to apologise for triggering the sleaze meltdown as he was repeatedly grilled during a press conference at the COP26 summit in Glasgow last night

Boris Johnson stubbornly refused to apologise for triggering the sleaze meltdown as he was repeatedly grilled during a press conference at the COP26 summit in Glasgow last night

The damage from the sleaze rows was underlined by a poll showing that the Conservatives have slumped behind Labour for the first time in a year

The damage from the sleaze rows was underlined by a poll showing that the Conservatives have slumped behind Labour for the first time in a year

Dominic Raab seemed to be watching the clock as he arrived for Cabinet today

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries was also at the meeting

Dominic Raab (left) seemed to be watching the clock as he arrived for Cabinet today. Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries (right) was also at the meeting

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack (left) and Housing Secretary Michael Gove in Downing St today

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack (left) and Housing Secretary Michael Gove in Downing St today

Standards chief calls for action on MPs’ second jobs and ministers’ interests

The head of a sleaze watchdog today heaped pressure on Boris Johnson to bolster rules on MPs’ outside interests.

Lord Evans, former head of MI5 and now chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, also delivered a thinly-veiled rebuke to politicians who are more focused on second jobs than Commons duties. 

The peer’s committee has called for changes including more transparency around lobbying and stronger oversight of ministerial behaviour. 

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme about his committee’s 2018 recommendations on MPs’ external work, the peer said: ‘We said that the critical thing was that nothing that an MP does should get in the way of their ability to work in support of their constituents – so the amount of work they do, the sort of work, needs to be judged against that.

‘If somebody is spending a huge amount of their time on a second job, then they can’t be maintaining support for their constituents.’

Asked whether it matters more about how much time an MP spends on their outside work rather than how much they are earning, Lord Evans replied: ‘I don’t think it is ultimately a matter of how much, I think it is a matter of is it clear that the MP who has been elected by their constituents, that their main focus, their main priority is on being the best MP that they can be?

‘And that takes time and that takes concentration.’ 

The Tory misery showed no sign of easing today, with more allegations against MPs and growing signs of infighting. 

Former Attorney General Geoffrey Cox is facing fresh questions after it emerged he took out a £3,900 loan from the taxpayer to cover the deposit on renting a London flat – at the same time as renting out his own property in the capital. 

In 2017 the Torridge & West Devon MP moved out of his own property in London, and started claiming around £1,900 a month on expenses for another flat in the capital.

The arrangement does not break any rules, but Sir Geoffrey is reported to be renting his Battersea property out for around £1,000 a week.

MailOnline can also reveal that Sir Geoffrey received a £3,900 loan from the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) in 2017 to pay the deposit on his new accommodation.

Again, there is no suggestion rules were breached, but the manoeuvre came as Sir Geoffrey was pocketing huge sums from his legal practice. He has earned more than £5million since becoming an MP in 2005.

Lord Evans, chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said that if an MP is spending a ‘huge amount of time’ on a second job, they will not be able to fulfil their duties to constituents.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme about his committee’s 2018 recommendations on MPs’ external work, the peer said: ‘We said that the critical thing was that nothing that an MP does should get in the way of their ability to work in support of their constituents – so the amount of work they do, the sort of work, needs to be judged against that.

‘If somebody is spending a huge amount of their time on a second job, then they can’t be maintaining support for their constituents.’

Asked whether it matters more about how much time an MP spends on their outside work rather than how much they are earning, Lord Evans replied: ‘I don’t think it is ultimately a matter of how much, I think it is a matter of is it clear that the MP who has been elected by their constituents, that their main focus, their main priority is on being the best MP that they can be?

‘And that takes time and that takes concentration.’

At the press conference last night, An awkward-looking Mr Johnson insisted MPs’ second jobs ‘strengthen democracy’ saying that for ‘hundreds of years’ politicians had been able to do outside work. 

But he swiped at Sir Geoffrey, who has been criticised for his £1million-a-year legal sideline, saying they ‘must put your job as an MP first’, as well as stressing that paid lobbying is never acceptable. 

On a stage where he had hoped to keep media focus on plans to limit climate change he was forced to defend Britain’s political system, saying: ‘I genuinely believe that the UK is not remotely a corrupt country, nor do I believe that our institutions are corrupt.’ 

And Mr Johnson seemed in a hurry to escape, bringing the proceedings to an abrupt halt as he looked as his watch and said he needed to go and catch ‘climate-friendly transport’ – the train – back to London. 

Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey was loaded up with equipment as she arrived in Downing Street for Cabinet

Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey was loaded up with equipment as she arrived in Downing Street for Cabinet 

Sir Geoffrey Cox has been referred to the Commons standards tsar over claims he broke Commons rules by using his parliamentary office to offer legal advice to the British Virgin Islands

Sir Geoffrey Cox has been referred to the Commons standards tsar over claims he broke Commons rules by using his parliamentary office to offer legal advice to the British Virgin Islands

Geoffrey Cox got £3,900 taxpayer loan for deposit to rent London flat… as he rented out his own property in the capital

Geoffrey Cox is facing fresh questions today after it emerged he took out a £3,900 loan from the taxpayer to cover the deposit on renting a London flat – at the same time as renting out his own property in the capital.

The former Attorney General is under more pressure over his accommodation arrangements, after sounding defiance over earning millions of pounds from his legal ‘sideline’.

In 2017 the Torridge & West Devon MP moved out of his own property in London, and started claiming around £1,900 a month on expenses for another flat in the capital.

The arrangement does not break any rules, but Sir Geoffrey is reported to be renting his Battersea property out for around £1,000 a week.

MailOnline can also reveal that Sir Geoffrey received a £3,900 loan from the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) in 2017 to pay the deposit on his new accommodation.

Again, there is no suggestion rules were breached, but the manoeuvre came as Sir Geoffrey was pocketing huge sums from his legal practice. He has earned more than £5million since becoming an MP in 2005.

The eminent QC is also likely to have received a deposit from the tenants of his Battersea property. The accommodation loan from Ipsa will be due for repayment when the MP ends his rental agreement.

Sir Geoffrey did not respond to a request for comment this morning. There are claims he has been in Mauritius while the furore has been unfolding.

However, he issued a bullish statement defending his outside earnings yesterday. 

The premier had made a dash to Scotland in a bid to reinvigorate the UN summit negotiations over a deal to tackle climate change, but found himself taken to task over the sleaze crisis.

‘On second jobs, I would say that for hundreds of years MPs have gone to Parliament and also done work as doctors, lawyers or soldiers or firefighters or writers, or all sorts of other trades and callings,’ he said.

‘And on the whole, the UK population has understood that that has actually strengthened our democracy, because people basically feel that parliamentarians do need to have some experience of the world.

‘But, if that system is going to continue today, then it is crucial that MPs follow the rules.

‘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 and the people who send you to Westminster, to Parliament.

‘And they also say that you should not use your position as an MP to lobby or otherwise intervene on behalf of any outside commercial interest. And it is not only that you have to register those interests – you can’t lobby or make representation while an MP on behalf of those interests.

‘Those are the rules and they must be enforced and those who don’t obey them should of course face sanctions.’ 

Sir Geoffrey sounded defiance yesterday after footage emerged appearing to show him representing the British Virgin Islands at a fraud commission by video-link from his Commons office.

Labour has demanded a standards probe, while ministers have admitted that using parliamentary facilities for work is against the rules. He denies any breach.  

Meanwhile, Andrew Bowie, tipped as a rising star, has stepped back from his role as a Conservative vice-chair role. He insisted he wants to focus on his Scottish constituency, but has reportedly told friends he is ‘unable to support the government’ in the wake of the Paterson row.  

Ministers have been desperately trying to pour cold water on the idea of full ban on MPs having second jobs. Health Secretary Sajid Javid suggested some politicians would opt to leave parliament, and stressed that the Commons benefits from people being connected to the outside world.  

Labour has accused Mr Johnson of using the day-trip to Scotland as a ‘distraction’ from the sleaze row. Many had expected him to go towards the end of the week when talks are at a crunch point.

He has also dropped plans for a Cabinet away-day at Chequers tomorrow and will meet ministers in Downing Street instead.



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