'I'm Not Going To Defend Him' – Minister Refuses To Stick Up For Geoffrey Cox

"I can see how it looks. It is really regrettable that we’ve got to this situation.”
Small business minister Paul Scully
Small business minister Paul Scully
Sky News

A minister refused to defend Geoffrey Cox this morning as further allegations were heaped on the Tory grandee.

Small business minister Paul Scully said it was “up to Geoffrey” to answer questions after he came under fire for voting by proxy from the British Virgin Islands.

Scully also described the sleaze row engulfing the government as “regrettable”.

Asked on Sky News about Cox voting by proxy in the Commons while carrying out a second job in the Caribbean, he said: “I’m not going to defend Geoffrey or say anything – that’s up to Geoffrey, it is between him and his voters.”

The minister also admitted he could see the optics were “not good” over the second jobs debate, adding: “Absolutely, I can see how it looks. It is really regrettable that we’ve got to this situation.”

Pressed on why it was “regrettable”, he added: “That we’ve got in a position that, first of all, last week we allowed the situation for one individual [Owen Paterson] to be conflated with the standards procedures, which do need looking at, they do need an appeals process, but in order to do that we need a cross-party consensus.

“Then, as I say, for a number of other issues to be conflated which we need to tackle, but we need to tackle in a level-headed way and certainly not to get into a party political bun fight.”

It comes after Boris Johnson was forced to dismiss suggestions Britain’s political system was corrupt during a press conference at the Cop26 climate change summit.

The row over second jobs was sparked by the scandal surrounding Tory MP Owen Paterson who was found to have broken the rules by lobbying the government on behalf of companies who were paying him.

Last Thursday, Boris Johnson was forced to u-turn over a controversial plan to prevent Paterson facing a 30-day commons suspension for breaching the rules. The row resulted in Paterson quitting as an MP.

His case opened the floodgates to stories about the thousands of pounds some MPs earn on top of their parliamentary jobs.

The latest outrage involves claims former attorney general Sir Geoffrey Cox breached parliamentary rules by undertaking external work from his Westminster office.

In a statement, Cox said the Conservative Party chief whip, Mark Spencer, gave him permission to visit the British Virgin Islands to conduct his second job during the pandemic.

He has earned hundreds of thousands of pounds advising the territory on a corruption probe launched by the Foreign Office.

This morning the Daily Mail reported that Cox earned more than £5.5 million from his work as a lawyer while he has been an MP.

Yesterday The Times uncovered a video of Cox remotely taking part in a BVI inquiry hearing in September in what appears to be his Westminster office. MPs are not allowed to do work for an outside interest while on the estate.

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said the alleged use of the office appeared to be “an egregious, brazen breach of the rules” and has written to standards commissioner Kathryn Stone requesting a formal investigation.

Cox said he would “fully cooperate” with any investigation but did “not believe that he breached the rules”.

A statement on behalf of Cox said: “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.”