A former British government minister could face an investigation after opposition parties criticised him for allegedly using his parliamentary office for his second job as a lawyer.
According to a report by The Times of London, Sir Geoffrey Cox, a Conservative MP and former attorney-general, used his office in the House of Commons in September to participate remotely in a meeting to advise the British Virgin Islands (BVI) over a corruption probe launched by the Foreign Office.
In an online video of a British Virgin Islands commission of inquiry hearing on Sept. 14, Cox can be heard 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 across the Parliament estate to alert MPs to a vote taking place.
The most recent register of financial interests showed that Cox will earn more than £800,000 ($1,080,000) from Withers, an international law firm appointed by the BVI government in January.
Cox also disclosed in the register that from Sept. 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.
The main opposition Labour party has referred the case to the Commons standards commissioner Kathryn Stone and has called for a formal investigation.
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said Cox’s apparent use of the MP office appeared to be “an egregious, brazen breach of the rules.”
“A Conservative MP using a taxpayer-funded office in Parliament to work for a tax haven facing allegations of corruption is a slap in the face and an insult to British taxpayers,” she said.
“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.”
The Liberal Democrats called on Cox to “save everyone the time and trouble of an investigation” and “come clean now.”
But Cox responded by saying he does not believe he has breached parliamentary rules.
A statement from his office said the MP “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.”
Cox has also been criticised for voting from the British Virgin Islands earlier this year while working there. But his office said he had been given permission by Chief Whip Mark Spencer to utilise proxy voting rules brought in during the COVID-19 lockdown.
A spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson refused to be drawn on individual cases, but said Johnson thought an “MP’s primary job is and must be to serve their constituents and to represent their interests in Parliament.”
The No 10 spokesman said: “They should be visible in their constituencies and available to help constituents with their constituency matters. If they’re not doing that, they’re not doing their job and will rightly be judged on that by their constituents.”
PA contributed to this report.