Politics

Why Boris Johnson’s U-turn on sleaze is being branded ‘dirty tricks’


The Prime Minister has announced a big U-turn which will ban some MPs’ second jobs. But Labour are accusing him of ‘dirty tricks’ over how it’s being proposed. So what’s going on? Here’s an explanation

Boris Johnson has been accused of “dirty tricks” in a new sleaze row.

Labour forced the Prime Minister to cave in yesterday and back a ban on MPs taking parliamentary consultant jobs.

But now Mr Johnson wants to amend Labour’s plans for a vote at 7pm tonight – and the party claims he’s watering them down.

Meanwhile, however, Downing Street insists it’s the Prime Minister’s plans that are actually stronger.

So who is telling the truth? And will either plan actually ban MPs’ second jobs?

We talk through the plans here.

What’s the sleaze U-turn all about?

Boris Johnson was shamed into a U-turn on lucrative second jobs for MPs after two weeks of headlines.

It kicked off when he tried to rip up standards rules to save a Tory pal, Owen Paterson, from suspension for breaking lobbying rules.

That led to wider questions about second jobs and the PM’s own less-than-perfect adherence to the system.








A row over Owen Paterson expanded to engulf many aspects of politics
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Image:

PA)



Two weeks are a long time in politics, and Mr Johnson agreed a crackdown on second jobs on Tuesday afternoon.

He proposed a ban on MPs from working as paid political consultants or lobbyists, or devoting too much time to second jobs.

Labour fear the plans are full of holes and could be downgraded or shelved, while some Tories are furious at the crackdown.

It could hit the financial interests of around 30 MPs – most of them Tories earning as much as £182,000 a year from outside work.





What is Labour’s proposal?

Labour tabled a binding “opposition day” motion for a vote tonight in the House of Commons, cracking down on MPs’ second jobs.

It would accept Recommendation 10 of a 2018 Committee on Standards in Public Life report on cleaning up MPs’ outside interests.

Recommendation 10 would amend the MPs’ Code of Conduct to say: “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.”

The motion would force the Commons Standards Committee to draw up detailed plans by January 31, with a debate 15 days later.

What is Boris Johnson’s proposal?

Boris Johnson has tabled an amendment to Labour’s motion that would strike it out and replace it with something similar.

It says parts of the 2018 report “form the basis of a viable approach which could command the confidence of parliamentarians and the public”.

It also “believes that these recommendations should be taken forward; and supports cross-party work, including that being done by the House’s Committee on Standards, to bring forward recommendations to update the Code of Conduct for MPs by 31 January 2022.”

Whose plan is stronger?

Each side claims their proposal is stronger than the other’s.

No10 insist Boris Johnson’s plan is tougher because it includes two recommendations of the 2018 report, not one.

Recommendation 10 is backed by both Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer. But Boris Johnson has also backed Recommendation 1, which says: “Any outside activity undertaken by a MP, whether remunerated or unremunerated, should be within reasonable limits and should not prevent them from fully carrying out their range of duties.”

On the other hand, Boris Johnson is refusing Keir Starmer’s broader demand to “ban all second jobs for MPs with very limited exemptions”.

And more urgently, the Prime Minister is trying to change the wording of a motion in the Commons to remove binding pledges – more of this below.

Labour think it’s too weak…

Labour’s “opposition day motion” – due for a vote around 7pm tonight – would have “instructed” the Commons Standards Committee to draw up detailed plans by January 31.

It would have then “ordered” that MPs must be granted a debate on the details within 15 days of them being drawn up.

But Boris Johnson’s amendment merely “supports” work to bring forward details by January 31. It does not guarantee MPs will be given a debate.

Shadow Commons leader Thangam Debbonaire said it was “typical Tory dirty tricks”. She added: “Labour has put forward a binding motion to start to clean up our politics after the Tory sleaze scandal. The Conservatives are trying to water that down.”

… Some Tories think it’s too strong

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, treasurer of the 1922 Committee, said there was “dissatisfaction” with the Prime Minister in the Tory ranks.

He told BBC’s Today programme that he had “no problem” with a ban on paid consultancy work but going further could “deter a whole class of people” from entering politics.

Tory MPs are especially worried about the plan to ensure MPs only take on a “reasonable” number of hours in their second jobs.

They fear there’ll be no clear definition of a reasonable number of hours. Cabinet minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan suggested it might be 10 or 15 a week, before then saying it could be 10 or 20 a week.

Cynics, of course, might just say those Tories are furious because they’ll lose a lucrative side gig.

… And some think BOTH plans are too weak

Both Labour and the Tories’ immediate plans would only focus on “Parliamentary” consultant jobs, not all consultant jobs or all second jobs.

Depending on how the rules are defined, many MPs may still be able to get away with lucrative consultant jobs – as long as they’re not “parliamentary”.

Labour has vowed to go further with a ban on most second jobs, but not yet and it’s not included in this week’s firm proposals.


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