Johnson makes U-turn to back ban on MPs acting as paid consultants

Prime minister’s announcement came just as Labour leader was making same proposal

Boris Johnson has called for a ban on MPs acting as paid consultants and lobbyists or spending too much time on other, second jobs that could interfere with the discharge of their parliamentary duties. In a letter to Commons speaker Lindsay Hoyle, he said the government would back proposals in a Labour motion to be debated on Wednesday.

Mr Johnson said MPs who prioritised outside work over their constituents’ interests should be investigated and “appropriately punished” and all MPs should be banned from receiving payment for political consulting.

“An MP’s primary role is, and must be, to serve their constituents and to represent their interests in parliament,” he said, adding that the code of conduct should be updated so that Westminster retains the trust of the public.

The prime minister’s dramatic U-turn followed two weeks of controversy and revelations about Conservative MPs’ outside earnings after the resignation from parliament of former Northern Ireland secretary Owen Paterson.

The prime minister attempted to block Mr Paterson's suspension as an MP for breaching rules about paid lobbying and to weaken the parliamentary standards system. But he reversed his position following a backlash from MPs and voters, sacrificing Mr Paterson and dropping a campaign to dislodge the parliamentary standards commissioner.

Mr Johnson tweeted his letter to the speaker as Labour leader Keir Starmer was beginning a press conference calling for a ban on all second jobs for MPs with some limited exceptions. Sir Keir, who acknowledged that his own paid legal work since entering parliament would be banned under his proposals, welcomed the prime minister's U-turn as a victory for Labour.

‘Tory sleaze’

“We’ve had two weeks of Tory sleaze and corruption. And be under no illusion, the prime minister’s only done this U-turn because his back was against the wall, because we, the Labour party, have put down a binding vote for tomorrow. So this is a significant victory for the Labour party,” he said.

“This is a prime minister who has shown no leadership on this whatsoever. It’s a step forward for standards in public life. And I rather hope that all my press conferences are this successful, that whilst I’m making a demand of the prime minister, he concedes, caves in. And that’s a very significant victory for the Labour party.”

The prime minister’s official spokesman said Mr Johnson’s proposals were a recognition of the strength of feeling on the issue of MPs’ outside earnings. Over the past two weeks, there have been daily revelations about the earnings of Conservative MPs, up to one in four of whom have second jobs, compared to only a handful of Labour MPs.

MPs on Tuesday voted to reverse the decisions they made two weeks ago to spare Mr Paterson his punishment and to create a new committee on standards with a built-in Conservative majority and a Conservative chair. Former prime minister Theresa May warned of the lasting damage to all MPs the government had caused, describing the prime minister's attempt to save Mr Paterson as "misplaced, ill-judged and just plain wrong".

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is London Editor of The Irish Times

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