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Tory vice-chair ‘quits in protest’ and PM cancels Cabinet away-day amid sleaze chaos

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Boris Johnson‘s sleaze woes deepened today amid another wave of allegations and claims a Tory vice-chair has quit in protest.     

The PM has dropped plans for a Cabinet away-day at Chequers tomorrow as the frenzy threatens to engulf the party.

Andrew Bowie, tipped as a rising star, has stepped back from his role as a Conservative vice-chair role. He insisted he wants to focus on his Scottish constituency, but has reportedly told friends he is ‘unable to support the government’ in the wake of the Owen Paterson debacle.

The crisis shows no sign of easing today, with former Attorney General Geoffrey Cox sounding defiance after coming under more fire over his £1million-a-year legal work.

Footage has emerged appearing to show the eminent QC representing the British Virgin Islands at a fraud commission by video-link from his Commons office.

Labour has demanded a standards probe, while ministers have admitted that using parliamentary facilities for work is against the rules.

Mr Johnson must also run the gauntlet of a press conference at 4.30pm this evening, where he had been hoping to focus on progress at the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow. 

Boris Johnson

Andrew Bowie

As Boris Johnson (left) faces more sleaze allegations against Tories, the party has confirmed that Andrew Bowie (right) has stepped back from his vice-chair role

Sir Geoffrey Cox has been referred to the Commons standards tsar over claims he broke Commons rules by using his parliamentary office to offer legal advice to the British Virgin Islands

Sir Geoffrey Cox has been referred to the Commons standards tsar over claims he broke Commons rules by using his parliamentary office to offer legal advice to the British Virgin Islands

Mr Bowie said today that he wanted to 'focus on representing my constituents'

Mr Bowie said today that he wanted to ‘focus on representing my constituents’

Tory sources indicated the vice-chair position would be held open for Mr Bowie should he wish to return.

But a friend told the Reaction website: ‘He doesn’t want to make a fuss but he’s unable to support the government after the events of recent days.’ 

The MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine has a narrow majority, holding the seat in 2019 by only 843 votes in the face of an SNP surge.

When first elected in 2017, Mr Bowie enjoyed a majority of almost 8,000 after being bolstered by a 19 point swing to the Tories. 

As the pressure increases on Mr Johnson, Labour former PM Gordon Brown said he backs an ‘outright ban’ on MPs ‘using a public office for private gain’.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I think, where there’s a conflict of interest using a public office for private gain, it should be banned outright and I’ve always said this.

‘I think there are three issues that have now got to be dealt with. One is these conflicts of interest – we’ve got to have tighter rules. Secondly, we’re now dealing with dubious appointments, for example, to the House of Lords – we’ve got to do something about this – and, thirdly, I think there’s a bigger issue emerging about foreign money entering British politics.

‘All these issues will have to be addressed, otherwise this will become a Parliament which will be increasingly identified with sleaze and increasingly identified with private interests overcoming what should be what MPs are all about and that is representing the public interest.’ 

Sir Geoffrey finally came out fighting today over his £1m-a-year legal sideline saying the chief whip approved him going to the Caribbean while the Commons sat.

The former Attorney General took aim at Mark Spencer as he insisted it is for voters in his Devon constituency to decide whether they wanted to be represented by a ‘senior and distinguished’ QC. 

He also denied breaching rules by apparently attending a hearing at a corruption commission on the British Virgin Islands by video-link from his parliamentary office.

Sir Geoffrey broke cover for the first time – despite being believed to be abroad – after days of silence amid the allegations.

Boris Johnson is desperately struggling to contain the wider sleaze furore after his abortive bid to save Owen Paterson from punishment for lobbying. The PM is set to be grilled at a press conference at 4.30pm, where he had hoped to focus on progress at the COP26 summit in Glasgow. 

A statement posted on Sir Geoffrey’s website said he ‘regularly works 70-hour weeks and always ensures that his casework on behalf of his constituents is given primary importance and fully carried out’. 

He said spending weeks on the British Virgin Islands this spring ‘made no difference.. 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,’ the statement 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.’

The bullish stance came after a stormy phone conversation with the chief whip last night, in which Sir Geoffrey was ordered to spend more time in Parliament.

A Government source said Mr Spencer had ‘reminded him he needs to be physically present in Parliament, representing his constituents’. 

Sir Geoffrey Cox has been referred to the Commons standards tsar over claims he 'broke the rules' by using his parliamentary office to offer legal advice to the British Virgin Islands

Sir Geoffrey Cox has been referred to the Commons standards tsar over claims he ‘broke the rules’ by using his parliamentary office to offer legal advice to the British Virgin Islands

The former Cabinet minister has been heavily rebuked following revelations he has been working in the Caribbean tax haven

The former Cabinet minister has been heavily rebuked following revelations he has been working in the Caribbean tax haven

Geoffrey Cox took aim at chief whip Mark Spencer (pictured right) as he insisted it is for voters in his Devon constituency to decide whether they wanted to be represented by a 'senior and distinguished' QC

Geoffrey Cox took aim at chief whip Mark Spencer (pictured right) as he insisted it is for voters in his Devon constituency to decide whether they wanted to be represented by a ‘senior and distinguished’ QC

The chair of the standards committee, Labour MP Chris Bryant, said this morning that the regulations against using parliamentary offices for outside business were ‘really important’.

‘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.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid was asked during a round of interviews whether MPs should be able to use their office for work connected with a second job. He replied: ‘No.’  

Mr Javid insisted MPs should ‘spend the vast majority of their time’ on parliamentary and constituency duties, but also cautioned that a complete ban could lead to some politicians leaving the House. 

‘I think it’s right that those rules allow that flexibility, but I think the most important thing really is that MP, whoever he or she may be, is completely transparent and open, follows all the rules, so that their constituents and the wider public know that they might have another interest,’ he said.

‘Also, I think it’s important that they continue to spend the vast majority of their time on their parliamentary affairs and their constituency affairs.’



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