Sajid Javid dodged answering questions about an under-fire Tory MP today, saying: “I don’t know the details.”
Sir Geoffrey Cox has been referred to the Commons anti-sleaze watchdog after allegedly using his parliamentary office to defend the British Virgin Islands in a corruption case brought by the UK.
The Times uncovered a video of him 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.
The QC and former attorney-general has also been paid more than £1 million in the past 12 months to work as a lawyer for clients including the BVI in a legal inquiry started by the Foreign Office.
It comes as the government is embroiled in a number of so-called “sleaze” scandals that are still dominating the headlines after more than a week.
But Javid refused to get into the fresh controversy surrounding Cox, despite his colleague foreign secretary Dominic Raab defending him yesterday morning.
In a fractious interview with Sky News, Javid said: “I don’t want to get into any individual case, especially if I don’t know the details, but I know obviously the big issue that you’re talking about and I do think it is important that any member of parliament - if they do have any external duties - that they are completely open and transparent about that.”
He was told the Labour Party is going to refer Cox to the standards committee for allegedly breaking the rules and asked by host Kay Burley: “Do you want to defend him this morning?”
“As I said, I’m not going to get into an individual case. I don’t know the individual circumstances of every member of parliament,” Javid said.
The health secretary went on to say Cox was a “fantastic cabinet minister” but on these issues: “I don’t know the details.”
When asked if MPs should be able to use their office for work connected with a second job, he replied: “No.”
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner has written to Standards Commissioner Kathryn Stone this morning asking her to investigate.
Labour MP Chris Bryant, who chairs the Commons standards committee, said MPs are not allowed to use their parliamentary office to run a business.
“You might end up occasionally meeting other people in your office but you’re not meant to run a commercial operation out of your taxpayer-funded office either in parliament or in your constituency – it’s a really important, I’d have thought, kind of basic rule,” he told BBC Breakfast.
Last month, Tory MP Owen Paterson was found to have broken the rules by lobbying the government on behalf of companies who were paying him - and for using his parliamentary office for business meetings.
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.
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.
“That has been the consistent view of the local conservative association and although at every election his political opponents have sought to make a prominent issue of his professional practice, it has so far been the consistent view of the voters of Torridge and West Devon. Sir Geoffrey is very content to abide by their decision.
“As for the allegation that he breached the parliamentary code of conduct on one occasion, on 14 September 2021, by being in his office while participating in an online hearing in the public inquiry and voting in the House of Commons, he understands that the matter has been referred to the parliamentary commissioner and he will fully cooperate with her investigation. He 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.”