The UK justice secretary, Dominic Raab, has defended the MP and former attorney general Geoffrey Cox for working for a month in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) during lockdown.
Earlier this year, Cox earned more than £150,000 in his second job as a lawyer advising the Caribbean tax haven in relation to corruption charges brought by the Foreign Office.
Raab, who was foreign secretary at the time, said Cox was legitimately working as long as the job was properly declared.
Speaking to Times Radio, he said: “I’m not going to get dragged into what individual MPs do, but having the former attorney general – and he was hired by the government of the BVI – to advise them on how to correct and deal and address these allegations, is a legitimate thing to do as long as it’s properly declared.”
He added: “I was foreign secretary that commissioned a commission of inquiry [into the BVI]given the allegations of misgovernance and very serious ones, including criminal wrongdoing.”
Raab said it was important for parliamentarians, such as Cox, to have expert insights into the UK overseas territories such as the BVI.
He said: “It’s quite important that parliament, which is responsible residually for some areas of our relationship with the overseas territories, has got some knowledge of what’s going on in those territories … Actually being in touch and working with our overseas territory is quite important piece of the responsibilities in the UK and indeed our parliament.
The Daily Mail reported that Cox spent up to a month in the BVI working for the international law firm Withers. At the time, when he was working 4,000 miles away from his Devon constituency, Cox voted in the Commons by proxy.
The Mail quoted a senior Whitehall source claiming Cox had been “pocketing hundreds of thousands of pounds to help stop the exposure of corruption in a Caribbean paradise”.
Cox’s register of interests entry shows he is being paid £400,000 a year by Withers.
Asked by BBC Radio 4’s Today programme whether Cox was serving the needs of his Torridge and West Devon constituency by working the equivalent of 35 hours a week on his legal work, Raab said: “It’s for the voters in any individual constituency to look at the record of their MP and decide whether they’ve got the right priorities.”
Raab also insisted that Boris Johnson followed hospital rules despite being pictured on Monday without a mask at a hospital in Hexham, Northumberland.
The prime minister was criticised for using the visit as an excuse to miss a Commons debate about standards following the government’s botched attempt to save Owen Paterson from suspension after he had been found guilty of paid advocacy.
Raab told Times Radio said: “He [Johnson] followed the clinical rules that were applied in the settings in the hospital and it absolutely right that he was up there, as part of our strategy to not just deal with Covid but get the NHS backlog down.”
He added: “In any clinical setting, you follow the rules that are applied there. I wasn’t there but my understanding is that that’s exactly what happened.”
Raab also repeated the government’s position that it was mistake to try to save Paterson by trying to reform the standards system.
He said: “I do think it’s been a mistake to conflate the individual case of an MP with the wider legitimate question which was debated by all members and all sides of the House of Commons yesterday about the due process and the question of an appeal.
“I think that was a mistake that we regret, but it is right to make sure we get a process which is both robust and sustainable.”
Source: The Guardian