Boris Johnson backs ban on MPs' lobbying after Tory sleaze scandal

16 November 2021, 16:01 | Updated: 16 November 2021, 17:52

Boris Johnson pictured on Tuesday.
Boris Johnson pictured on Tuesday. Picture: Getty

By James Morris

Boris Johnson has proposed banning MPs from acting as paid political consultants or lobbyists as he tries to stem the ongoing sleaze row.

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The prime minister timed the announcement this afternoon just as Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer was about to give a speech on the party's own proposals to address sleaze – and the day before a vote called by Labour to ban MPs from paid consultancies.

Mr Johnson said he has proposed:

  • an update to the MPs' code of conduct
  • investigation and "appropriate punishment" of MPs who prioritise outside interests over their constituents
  • a ban on MPs acting as paid political consultants or lobbyists

Downing Street said he made the proposals in recognition of the "strength of feeling" on the issue.

Mr Starmer, on the other hand, said Mr Johnson had been "dragged kicking and screaming" to his new position and proclaimed a "significant victory" for Labour.

In a letter to House of Commons speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the PM said: "As you know, concerns have been raised over recent days about the outside interests of MPs.

"I know you agree that the vast majority of MPs of all parties work tirelessly for their constituents. That is why it is imperative that we put beyond doubt the reputation of the House of Commons by ensuring the rules which apply to MPs are up to date, effective and appropriately rigorous."

The PM acted after the sleaze scandal showed no signs of abating – with Mr Johnson's Conservative Party losing its poll lead over Mr Starmer's Labour.

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The row was sparked two weeks ago by Mr Johnson's support of former Tory MP Owen Paterson, who breached lobbying rules in relation to two companies which were paying him more than £100,000 a year.

Mr Johnson ordered Tory MPs to support a motion that would have reviewed Mr Paterson's specific case, allowing him to avoid suspension, as well as setting up a committee to look at the whole standards system.

But following a vicious backlash, and opposition parties refusing to co-operate, the government made a U-turn, prompting Mr Paterson's resignation.

A number of further sleaze rows over MPs' second jobs have since erupted, with one, Sir Geoffrey Cox, standing to make more than £1m – on top of his annual MP's salary of £81,000 – representing the British Virgin Islands in a corruption inquiry.

Mr Starmer said this evening of Mr Johnson's announcement: "We've had two weeks of Tory sleaze and corruption. Be under no illusion, the prime minister has only done this because his back was against the wall because the Labour Party have put down a binding vote for tomorrow.

"This is a significant victory for the Labour Party, it would not have happened if we hadn't put down that binding vote. This is a prime minister who has shown no leadership on this whatsoever."