Boris Johnson Proposes to Ban MPs From Doing Paid Consultancy Work
Boris Johnson proposed a ban on U.K. members of Parliament taking paid political consultancy work on the side, as he tries to draw a line under accusations of ethics violations that have damaged the government and his ruling Conservative Party in recent weeks.
Rules should be changed to ensure outside work doesn’t prevent MPs from carrying out their main duties, the prime minister said in a letter to House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle on Tuesday. Lawmakers should not be allowed to work as a paid parliamentary strategist, advisor or consultant, he said.
“An MP’s primary role is, and must be, to serve their constituents,” Johnson wrote. Updating the rules is necessary so that Parliament “continues to command the confidence of the public.”
That represents a dramatic reversal from Johnson’s position less than two weeks ago, when the prime minister ordered Tory MPs to block the suspension of Owen Paterson, a friend and former Conservative minister who had been found in breach of current lobbying rules.
That triggered a major backlash, including from Conservative MPs, and forced Johnson to back down less than 24 hours later. Yet the prime minister is still struggling to contain the fallout, and his move to ban paid advocacy goes far beyond accepting that the government’s position on Paterson was wrong.
It’s also an attempt to neutralize attacks from the opposition Labour Party, which is planning to force a vote in the House of Commons on Wednesday along the lines of Johnson’s proposal.
The government will put forward an amendment to toughen Labour’s proposals on Wednesday, according to a person familiar with the matter. Ministers will seek to include a provision limiting the time MPs can dedicate to second jobs with a stricture that outside activities shouldn’t prevent them from carrying out their public duties, the person said.
Labour branded that plan “dirty tricks,” saying it would water down the opposition motion by making it non-binding and removing the guarantee of a future vote in Parliament to ban MPs from paid political advisory work.
“Boris Johnson has been backed into a corner and one minute accepts our motion in a letter to the speaker but then comes forward with an amendment that will remove the central part that guarantees that action will be taken,” Shadow cabinet member Thangam Debbonaire said in a statement. “This is typical Tory dirty tricks.”
Wednesday’s proceedings are unlikely to mark the end of the argument on parliamentary ethics. Johnson -- who earned considerable sums writing books and newspaper columns and delivering speeches during his time as an MP -- stopped short of suggesting an outright ban on all outside work by lawmakers.
The prime minister believes second jobs “can have a role to play in helping form the decisions of MPs within requisite boundaries and rules,” his spokesman, Max Blain, told reporters on Tuesday.
That puts him at odds with opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer, who has said most second jobs should be banned for MPs, except those with a public service element such as working as a doctor or in the military.
Johnson’s defense of Paterson triggered a wave of negative newspaper headlines as the U.K. media sought to expose the range of outside paid work undertaken by lawmakers. His handling of the affair also sparked Conservative infighting, dented his authority with the party and damaged its poll numbers.
Johnson’s proposal won’t be approved automatically. Ethics rules for MPs are a matter for Parliament rather than the government, and the prime minister told Hoyle he wants changes “on the basis of a cross-party consensus.”
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