Boris Johnson said on Wednesday that Britain was not a “corrupt country” after a week of Tory sleaze headlines as he called on MPs who break lobbying rules to be “punished”.
The intervention came after Sir Geoffrey Cox said he was given permission to vote remotely before going to the Caribbean as he defended his vast second job earnings.
Breaking his silence over the row, the Tory MP and former attorney general argued his constituents backed his decision to work as a barrister.
In a press conference the Prime Minister came out against a blanket ban on second jobs for MPs, arguing that over the decades Parliament has benefited from politicians who have also been doctors or soldiers.
However, after a slew of press reports noting Tory MPs with paid consultant jobs speaking on topics close to those firms, Mr Johnson made clear rules breaches should be looked into.
“The most important thing is that those who break the rules must be investigated and should be punished," the Prime Minister said while at the Cop26 UN climate change conference.
Mr Johnson’s rhetoric, despite twice declining to apologise for the handling of the Owen Paterson case, appeared to be an attempt to reassure voters he was tough on rule breaches.
New details emerged on Wednesday regarding Sir Geoffrey, who cast parliamentary votes via a “proxy” while working as a barrister in the Caribbean this spring.
He has made more than a million pounds in the past year as a barrister – a job he has continued to practise for years while also being a backbench MP. His legal work has earned him more than £5.5 million during his time as an MP according to records.
Sir Geoffrey has denied breaking parliamentary rules in his work as a lawyer.
In a 470-word statement posted on his constituency website, Sir Geoffrey defended the work he was doing for the Government of the British Virgin Islands (BVI).
On the votes cast while in the Caribbean, he also explicitly referenced the Chief Whip, Mark Spencer, who he said had agreed using proxy votes was “appropriate”.
Part of the statement read: “Sir Geoffrey regularly works 70-hour weeks and always ensures that his casework on behalf of his constituents is given primary importance and fully carried out.
“Throughout this period, he continued to have online meetings with organisations, businesses and individuals within the constituency and it made no difference where he was for that purpose since it was not practicable or desirable at that time to meet face to face.
“As to the use of the proxy, prior to his visit to the BVI, he consulted the Chief Whip specifically on this issue and was advised that it was appropriate.”
A spokesman for the Chief Whip confirmed that Sir Geoffrey had been given permission to use proxy votes, though a Tory source questioned whether he had agreed the arrangement was “appropriate”.
The spokesman for Mr Spencer said: “All MPs were expected to follow proceedings and participate virtually. They were also expected to continue performing their primary task of serving their constituents.”
The row adds to the pressure on Mr Spencer, who some Tory MPs have blamed after they were whipped to support a delay to Tory MP Owen Paterson’s 30-day suspension over breached lobbying rules.
The vote last week saw more than 50 Tory MPs rebel, with the Government doing an about-turn within 24 hours – kick-starting a week of negative headlines over “Tory sleaze”. Mr Paterson, who has always denied wrongdoing, quit as an MP.
With recent opinion polls showing the Tory Party dropping in support by a few percentage points, The Telegraph asked Mr Johnson at a press conference at Cop26 what his message was to concerned voters.
“I genuinely believe that the UK is not remotely a corrupt country, nor do I believe that our institutions are corrupt,” Mr Johnson said.
"We have a very, very tough system of parliamentary democracy and scrutiny, not least by the media.
"I think what you have got is cases where, sadly, MPs have broken the rules in the past, may be guilty of breaking the rules today. What I want to see is them facing appropriate sanctions."
Meanwhile the Labour Party produced an analysis that showed one in seven Tory MPs has a paid consultant job alongside their work as an MP.
Lindsay Hoyle, Speaker of the House of Commons, on Wednesday backed stripping former MPs who are lobbying of their parliamentary passes.