April was hectic for MPs, as the Government attempted to vaccinate Britain out of lockdown while simultaneously navigating the choppy waters of Brexit, the death of Prince Philip, and scandals over Boris Johnson’s Downing Street flat and David Cameron’s lobbying.

Three days prior to Easter, Parliament saw an explosion of votes on issues ranging from immigration and national security to fire safety and abortion. Evenings were filled with dozens of lengthy debates. Business was still open until 1.30am on Monday, April 26th when it was busiest.

Throughout this period, Sir Geoffrey Cox QC, the Tory MP for Torridge and West Devon, was – on paper – beavering away at the coal-face.

While his distinctive booming voice wasn’t actually heard in the chamber, he certainly gave every appearance of justifying that juicy £81,932 MP’s salary (plus expenses), turning out to vote six times that day, three times more on the 27, and a further three times on the 28.

That’s what Commons records say, at least. However, the truth is quite different. The reality is quite different. On each of the 12 occasions he used his democratic mandate, the former attorney general aged 61 avoided actually having to troop through the lobby. Instead, he took advantage of temporary Covid rules that allowed MPs to appoint a ‘proxy’ – in his case Deputy Chief Whip Stuart Andrew – to vote on his behalf.

It was designed to reduce travel and social contact during pandemics. In other words, it was designed to allow them to ‘work from home’.

And therein lies what Sir Geoffrey’s great oratorical hero William Shakespeare might call the rub. For the Conservative grandee was neither at his rambling constituency home near Tavistock, where he and wife Jeanie raised their three children, nor the £1.5million flat overlooking a Thames-side park in Battersea in London. He could instead be found almost 4,000 miles away on Tortola (the administrative center of the British Virgin Islands). [BVI]

Attorney General Geoffrey Cox in the House of Commons on 25 September 2019

Geoffrey Cox, Attorney General in the House of Commons 25 September 2019,

Sir Geoffrey’s trip – at a time when most ordinary Britons were banned from taking holidays – was designed for business rather than pleasure. For as the Daily Mail yesterday revealed, he’d actually adjourned to the Caribbean tax haven to carry out a highly paid second job for the international law firm Withers.

Specifically, the MP – who was sacked as the Government’s top legal officer in February 2020 – was acting on behalf of the British Overseas Territory’s government in a courtroom inquiry, ordered by the UK Foreign Office, into allegations of ‘corruption, abuse of office, or other serious dishonesty’ by its political class. This work was extremely lucrative, as we will discuss in more detail.

Commons disclosures show that Cox, who charges almost £1,000 an hour (or £16 a minute) for his legal services, earned almost £300,000 from Withers between late March and the end of April, working for 311 hours in the process. This means that he spent an average 36 hour per week on legal work in the weeks before, during, and after his visit.

In the past six months, meanwhile, Sir Geoffrey spent an astonishing 680 hours toiling away for Withers (26 hours a week, on average), raking in some £637,235.11 in the process, and taking his total annual earnings from outside work well over £1million a year.

Side hustle: Geoffrey Cox (bottom left and centre) appears at the BVI inquiry on June 22

Side hustle: Geoffrey Cox (bottom, left and middle) appeared at the BVI investigation on June 22

I also learned that Sir Geoffrey made another trip to BVI during that time, but this was in June. According to court records and a video, Sir Geoffrey attended a one-day hearing at Tortola’s International Arbitration Centre.

Wearing a suit, he sat in front of two watercolour paintings of palm trees at the venue, on a pier overlooking the island’s superyacht-filled marina.

Devonian constituents who were briefly treated by him in late May are free to ask how his MP was able to take the time necessary to adequately represent them.

After all, he certainly hasn’t been raising important issues in the Commons Chamber.

Hansard records show that Sir Geoffrey didn’t make so much as a single speech in Parliament during the 18 months after Boris Johnson sacked him from the Cabinet in February 2020.

He spoke only once in this time frame, on September 13, just after 6:30pm. He spoke 839 words as part of a discussion about a bill that would change the rules to dissolve Parliament. For a man whose distinctive voice and ubiquity at the despatch box saw him nicknamed ‘The Tory Gandalf’ during his time in Theresa May’s post-Brexit administration, it’s quite the comedown.

Contrary to his silence at Westminster, he was able to make it to the BVI inquiry for ten days and speak extensively about each of them. On May 15, and 20, he appeared personally (having arrived three weeks before to prepare for the case), and on June 22. According to records provided via videolink, he was present on May 13, June 21 and September 14, respectively.

The outrage only grew when Parliament was present on each of these occasions. As has the fact that according to Commons expense claims, he billed taxpayers £629 late last year for an iPad ‘to enable effective working while travelling etc and another £419.95 for “tablet” accessories to help with “remote working”.’

Cox has appeared at Caribbean  court for ten days while MPs are sitting in Commons (file image)

Cox has appeared at Caribbean  court for ten days while MPs are sitting in Commons (file image)

Yes, this is allowed, but as one Westminster source puts it: ‘On every side of the house, people are, obviously, livid.

‘The rules of proxy voting were designed to allow MPs to isolate and stop the spread of Covid. The rules of proxy voting were not meant to make you rich and allow you to go on vacation. It’s a terrible, terrible look.’ Further ratcheting up public anger is the nature of the work Cox has chosen to carry out: Representing the BVI government against allegations of corruption being investigated at the behest of the UK Government.

In January of this year, Sir Gary Hickinbottom was appointed by the Caribbean’s outgoing governor to investigate claims of institutional corruption in its ruling classes.

Members of the BVI government are (among other things) accused of giving £29million of Covid relief funds in cash handouts to political allies, misusing £70million of taxpayers’ money that was supposed to be spent on infrastructure projects, and wasting £23million building a pier after awarding construction contracts to cronies.

The wide-ranging inquiry is also examining a £5.1million grant given to an airline for flights to the US which never took off, and £730,000 handed to alleged political cronies in return for building a single wall at a high school.

Cox was appointed in January by the BVI to help it fight these widespread corruption claims. He actively chose to take the job because the ‘cab rank’ rule, which means barristers have little choice over the clients they represent in UK courts, does not apply to international cases.

His very appointment was something of a PR coup for the tax haven, which issued press releases crowing about the former Cabinet minister’s arrival in the country on April 26.

In the end, it became a bizarre sight that an English MP was paid to assist in destroying representatives from his country’s own country at international courts.

Cox seemed to be turning on the UK, complaining about the Foreign Office-ordered investigation as a judicial check of every major decision made by the BVI Cabinet in the previous 12 to 15 year. It’s safe to say that the whole thing went down like a lead balloon back in London. ‘The Foreign Office is absolutely furious,’ says a Whitehall insider.

‘Here they are, trying to take on corruption in a far-flung territory, and they find a British MP being paid a fortune to fly out there, in lockdown, and earn a small fortune attempting to get the subject of this inquiry off the hook.’

What is all the more scandalous – to critics, at least – is that all of Cox’s lucrative outside work is entirely legal. There are no restrictions on what MPs can do outside of work, or how much cash they can make from second and third jobs. However, Commons rules allow for them to declare their options.

Cox managed to sometimes fall foul of these rules during his 16 year tenure in Parliament. As an example, take February 2016. MPs on the Standards Committee found that he had committed a ‘serious’ breach of rules by failing to declare more than £400,000 of outside earnings from legal work.

He has been criticized for his work with Caribbean tax havens. In 2014, taxpayers were forced to stump up £1,800 to fly him home from the Cayman Islands when Parliament was unexpectedly recalled during a recess to discuss an emergency in Iraq. In 2018, Cox supported the British Virgin Islands’ and Caymans’ governments in Parliament. He repeatedly opposed a plan to improve transparency in tax havens.

He said such a move would involve interfering in the domestic affairs of other countries in a way that was ‘beneath the dignity of Parliament’.

It is ironic, then that Sir Geoffrey, a globetrotting traveler should be accused today of having compromised that dignity.