MPs’ income from outside politics: a timeline of the furore | Politics


Almost 18 months after the furore of the Owen Paterson scandal led to promises of a crackdown on MPs having second jobs, their income from work outside parliament has continued to rise, Guardian analysis has found.

The analysis looked at all MPs who had made more than £1,000 in the past year, excluding income from completing surveys, and found that they had collectively made £10m in this period, driven largely by a figure close to £5m made by the former prime minister Boris Johnson in his final months as an MP.

While some MPs gave up well-paid consultancy work in 2021 after the anger about Owen Paterson’s lobbying on behalf of a company that paid him, others have begun building up portfolio careers in the past 12 months.

October 2021: the Owen Paterson scandal

The former Tory cabinet minister Owen Paterson is found to have breached parliament’s rules after using his position as an MP to lobby ministers and government departments on behalf of two companies that employed him as a consultant.

Paterson’s proposed sanction from the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards is a 30-day suspension from the House. However, this is delayed by a government motion (led by then-PM Boris Johnson), which proposed redesigning the disciplinary process for MPs. This is widely seen as an attempt to save Paterson’s career.

The government later U-turns on its decision, and Johnson describes it as a “total mistake” and calls for there to be “reasonable limits” placed on how much time an MP can spend on a second job versus their day-to-day role. Soon after, Paterson resigns.

November 2021: the Geoffrey Cox furore

The focus soon shifts to the former UK attorney general Geoffrey Cox. Guardian analysis of the MPs’ register of interests finds he has made nearly £6m from his work as a barrister outside parliament in the 16 years since he became a Conservative MP. An investigation by the Guardian finds that a quarter of Conservative MPs hold second jobs.

In an attempt to silence increasingly critical headlines, Boris Johnson writes to the Commons Speaker proposing rules that would update the code of conduct for MPs and ban MPs working as paid political consultants or lobbyists. Ministers say they will back reasonable limits on outside earnings and it is suggested that around 10-15 hours a week would be fair.

March 2022: plans to cap UK MPs’ income from second jobs are dropped

But six months later ministers tell the Commons standards committee that a time limit or ceiling on such earnings would be “impractical”.

Steve Barclay, the chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, and Mark Spencer, the leader of the House of Commons, say: “The imposition of time limits would not necessarily serve to address recent concerns over paid advocacy and the primary duty of MPs to serve their constituents. It could be possible, for example, for a member to conduct work within the accepted time limits but that does not necessarily mean such work is ‘appropriate’ even if it did not constitute ‘paid advocacy’.”

They add: “Earnings from activities such as writing books for example, would not preclude members from meeting their principal duty to their constituents.”

May 2022: plans to limit the amount of time MPs can spend on second jobs are dropped

Changes to the MPs’ code of conduct were considered by the Commons standards committee after outcry over the Paterson and Cox scandals but they agree that without cross-party agreement on reform, the system should stay as it is.

January 2023: Keir Starmer proposes a ban on second jobs

The Labour leader calls for a ban, but adds that there may be some “exceptions”.

In this same month, the Guardian reports that Tory MPs have been paid £15.2m from second jobs since the 2019 general election, dwarfing the combined income of politicians who represent other parties. The former prime minister Theresa May is the biggest recipient at this point, with her office receiving £2.5m on top of her parliamentary salary, mainly from giving speeches to organisations in the US such as JP Morgan bank and the private equity firm Apax Partners.

March 2023: new MPs’ code of conduct comes into effect

The refreshed code introduces an outright ban on paid parliamentary advice, tightens loopholes and improves transparency. For the first time, the code now explicitly prohibits members providing parliamentary advice to an outside employer. This includes providing or agreeing to provide services as a parliamentary adviser, consultant or strategist. It also requires MPs to have a written contract for any outside work, stating that they cannot lobby for their employer or give paid parliamentary advice, and that their employer cannot ask them to do so.

July 2023: head of ethics watchdog calls for limits on MPs’ second jobs

Lord Evans calls for some form of limit on MPs’ second jobs, telling Sky News it is “hard to argue” some politicians are putting parliament first. The crossbench peer, who spent his career in the secret service and was head of MI5 for six years, says MPs should be given an “indicative” ceiling on how much time to spend on their extra-parliamentary roles.

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