Rishi Sunak says government needs to ‘do better’ amid sleaze allegations against MPs

The government needs to “do better” amid sleaze allegations against MPs “and we know that”, the chancellor has told Sky News.

Speaking to economics editor Ed Conway as scrutiny continues into lobbying by MPs and their outside earnings through second jobs, Rishi Sunak said: “On the broader point and just reflecting over recent events, I think for us as a government, it’s fair to say that we need to do better than we did last week and we know that.”

What are the sleaze claims facing Boris Johnson and the Conservatives?

The Owen Paterson lobbying scandal, in which the Conservative was found to have broken the rules regarding his £110,000-a-year private sector work advocating for two firms, has sparked a wider debate and prompted a renewed focus on MPs’ activities outside the Commons.

Nicola Sturgeon, SNP leader and Scotland’s first minister, has told Sky’s political editor Beth Rigby that the case has been a “distraction in many ways” to progress at the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow.

It has “shone a light” on a “sense of corruption at the heart of the Westminster system”, she added.

The latest MP to come under scrutiny is former attorney general Sir Geoffrey Cox.

His entry in the register of members’ financial interests shows he earned more than £800,000 while working for law firm Withers, which is representing the British Virgin Islands government in a corruption case brought by the UK.

It has also been revealed that Sir Geoffrey voted by proxy in the House of Commons while earning hundreds of thousands of pounds for the legal work more than 4,000 miles away in the Caribbean.

In addition, he is facing claims that he used his parliamentary office to undertake some of his work for Withers.

Sir Geoffrey has defended himself and declared it is up to his Torridge and West Devon constituents to vote him out if they are unhappy about it.

Asked if an MP’s salary – over £80,000 – is enough for them to not feel the need to do extra work and earn more, Mr Sunak said: “I think people will have different motivations for doing what they do.

“The pay is set by an independent body. That’s absolutely right.

“And with regard to second jobs, there’s an independent process that we have that is set by parliament that governs all of those things and it’s absolutely right that process is followed to the letter.”

Facing questions at a news conference on Wednesday, Boris Johnson said the UK is “not remotely a corrupt country” and any MP found to have broken the rules “should be punished”.

The prime minister earlier this week refused to apologise for the government’s handling of Mr Paterson’s case.

Mr Paterson resigned as a Conservative MP after Downing Street abandoned an attempt to avoid him being hit with a 30-day Commons suspension for breaking lobbying rules.

Speaking to Sky News on Thursday, business minister Paul Scully said the current furore was “regrettable” and that ultimately it is up to the electorate in an MPs’ constituency to vote them out if they are unhappy with their extra work.

“They should be the ones that are the judge, jury and executioner at the ballot box come election time,” he told Kay Burley, pointing out that MPs declare their outside earnings and second jobs in the register of members’ financial interests.

On the scrutiny of Sir Geoffrey, Mr Scully said: “I’m not going to defend Geoffrey or say anything – that’s up to Geoffrey, it is between him and his voters.”

Asked whether he could see that the “optics were not good”, the minister responded: “Absolutely, I can see how it looks. It is really regrettable that we’ve got to this situation.”

Labour’s Lucy Powell told Sky News that the “vast majority” of MPs were “going about their work diligently” and “putting their constituents and voters first”.

Speaking to Kay Burley, the shadow housing secretary said the rules around the second jobs needed to be tightened “further still”, with consultancies and directorships banned.

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