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by Noa Hoffman
17 November 2021
Boris Johnson proposes ban on MPs working as paid political consultants

Boris Johnson hair PA

Boris Johnson proposes ban on MPs working as paid political consultants

Boris Johnson has called for the code of conduct for parliamentarians to be updated to ban MPs from acting as paid political consultants.

As Westminster finds itself rocked by allegations of sleaze, the Prime Minister has also called for MPs who are prioritising outside interests over their constituents to be “investigated and appropriately punished”.

Under current rules, MPs are allowed to work in second jobs as consultants to private businesses, including lobbying companies. However, they are banned from lobbying ministers on behalf of the clients they work for. 

In a letter to Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Speaker of the House of Commons, Johnson said: "An MP's primary role is, and must be, to serve their constituents and to represent their interests in Parliament.

"Any MP who falls below the standards required can of course be investigated by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards."

However, MPs have accused the government of having failed to think through the plans.

It is unclear how the change would impact MPs who hold two elected posts, including Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross who was recently criticised for failing to declare his salaries as an MSP and linesman on his Westminster register of interests.

SNP shadow leader of the House Pete Wishart said: "The Prime Minister has thrown Mr Ross under the bus, it's impossible to see how he can continue juggling all these balls and remain in his position.

"With every day that goes by, Douglas Ross loses more credibility. It's surely only a matter of time before the Scottish Tories ditch him and look for a new leader."

Johnson's strategy for tackling sleaze has been taken from a 2018 report by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, titled MP's Outside Interests. 

The Prime Minister has requested two recommendations from the report be adopted.

The first states: "The Code of Conduct for MPs should be updated to state that any outside activity undertaken by an MP, whether renumerated or unrenumerated, should be within reasonable limits and should not prevent them from carrying out their full range of duties."

The second reads: "The Code of Conduct for MPs and Guide to the Rules should be updated to state: MPs should not accept any paid work to provide services as a Parliamentary strategist, adviser or consultant, for example, advising on Parliamentary affairs or on how to influence Parliament and its members. MPs should never accept any payment or offers of employment to act as political or Parliamentary consultants or advisors."

The Prime Minister’s call to change the code of conduct for MPs comes after parliamentarians voted unanimously today to rescind Tory plans to reform parliament's watchdog.

Earlier this month, an amendment was put forward by Andrea Leadsom in favour of setting up a new standards committee and postponing a proposed 30 day suspension of Tory MP Owen Paterson, who was found guilty of breaching lobbying regulations. It was voted through by 250 – 232 despite a number of MPs expressing their discomfort with the move. 

But the government was forced to U-turn following cross-party anger at the conflation of reform of the Commons’ standards committee with the case of Paterson. 

The Labour Party is planning to introduce a motion to the Commons on Wednesday, also calling for a ban on MPs having second jobs as political consultants.

At a press conference this afternoon, as Keir Starmer was due to expand on the details of his motion, Johnson blindsided the Labour leader by announcing his own strategy for tackling sleaze. 

Starmer later confirmed Johnson's proposal is identical to his, but said he sees "no reason not to go ahead" with the vote tomorrow anyway. 

Starmer also added that under a Labour government all second jobs for MPs would be banned, with the exception of a select few, such as working as a nurse or in A&E. Under current Tory plans MPs are likely to still be able to undertake positions such as directorships of private companies. 

"We very clearly wanted to say: what's the point of consensus? And it looks like we've managed to achieve it with a Prime Minister today," a spokesperson for Starmer said.

"That is not the limit of our ambition on second jobs, our limit our ambition is to go further. But what we wanted to do was to say: let's at least make a start, and that's why we use existing language from the 2018 committee."

Read more on our sister website, Politics Home.

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