Tory sleaze row: What did Owen Paterson do? Why Tory MPs are facing 'sleaze' allegations amid second job fury

As debate continues over whether UK politicians should be able to have second jobs amid accusations of ‘Tory sleaze’, here's what you need to know about the scandal so far

Tory sleaze row: What did Owen Paterson do? Why Tory MPs are facing 'sleaze' allegations amid second job fury (Image credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA/Canva Pro)
Tory sleaze row: What did Owen Paterson do? Why Tory MPs are facing 'sleaze' allegations amid second job fury (Image credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA/Canva Pro)

The political fallout over British Member of Parliament (MP), Owen Paterson, and his role at the heart of accusations over ‘Tory sleaze’ is continuing to rock the UK Government.

After being found to have engaged in paid advocacy for two companies, one of which received Covid testing contracts, Mr Paterson resigned as the Conservative MP for North Shropshire as the UK Government came under fire for attempting to rewrite MP standards.

But despite the MP’s resignation, the Tory sleaze row appears to be far from over – with several other Conservative MPs criticised for having lucrative second jobs in addition to their MP’s salary.

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Here’s what you need to know about the Tory sleaze row, what Owen Paterson did to cause the scandal and how much MPs earn for their role as constituency representatives.

Who is Owen Paterson and what did he do?

Owen Paterson is the member of parliament representing the English constituency of North Shropshire, a former Conservative MP and former Northern Ireland Secretary from 2010 to 2012.

In October, Mr Paterson was revealed to have breached MP standards and UK Parliament lobbying rules by allegedly abusing his parliamentary position to raise the profile and influence of two companies employing him as a consultant.

The revelations about Mr Paterson’s breach of lobbying rules came to light following a report by Kathryn Stone, the UK Parliament’s standards commissioner, which found him to have broken rules banning paid advocacy and lobbying for the interests of secondary employers.

Mr Paterson had been working as a paid consultant of clinical tech company Randox Laboratories as well as a meats company, Lynn’s Country Foods, collecting an average £100,000 a year from employment with these companies in addition to his MP salary.

Randox was revealed to have been awarded a number of Covid testing contracts during the height of the coronavirus pandemic last year, with Mr Paterson claiming over £8,000 a month in a consultancy position for the firm – which he approached the Department for International Development and Food Standards Agency on behalf of several times.

Despite the House of Commons Standards Committee recommendation that Mr Paterson be suspended for 30 days, the UK Government supported a proposal spearheaded by Andrea Leadsom which attempted to block the MP’s suspension by instead launching a review of MP standards rules.

After coming under fierce criticism from the public, opposition MPs and Conservative backbenchers, the government ditched its plans in a screeching U-turn and Mr Paterson resigned on Thursday afternoon.

How much do MPs earn?

Members of UK Parliament earn a basic annual salary of £81,932 as of 1 April 2020.

This salary is more than £50,000 more than the average UK full time salary for 2021 of £31,285, according to the Office of National Statistics.

Are MPs allowed to have second jobs?

According to parliamentary standards, MPs in the House of Commons are permitted to have second jobs in addition to their position as political representatives for their constituency.

These can range from working part-time as doctors, nurses or lawyers to consultants and advisors for corporate firms.

But there are restrictions on who can have a second job as an MP and how they behave with the job in question.

MPs who double as cabinet ministers working at the heart of government are not allowed to hold second roles.

And MPs are not allowed to present a conflict of interest with their second jobs or lobby the government on behalf of the companies employing them.

While lobbying is a common practice used by those outside government and parliament to gain political influence and attention for their goals, to use an MP to gain such influence is seen as undemocratic and exploiting the power that MPs hold in their political roles.

For this reason, MPs are required to state their earnings from employment, shareholdings, miscellaneous sources and property in keeping with transparency requirements.

Which MPs have been revealed to have high-earning second jobs?

The allegations of sleaze by MPs in the House of Commons has seen further revelations of the lucrative second jobs held by UK politicians.

Among those recently revealed to have been earning substantial amounts beyond their salaries is Sir Geoffrey Cox MP, who according to the latest register of financial interests will earn £400,000 a year for 41 hours of work with Caribbean-based law firm Withers.

Sir Cox’s huge salary from Withers has come under added scrutiny as the law firm is appointed by the British Virgin Islands government.

Labour chair Anneliese Dodds criticised the role, writing in a letter to Mr Johnson: "It appears that your former attorney general is profiting from advising an administration accused of corruption and tax avoidance.

"It seems Sir Geoffrey took advantage of Covid-related parliamentary rules and flew out to the BVI to vote by proxy from the other side of the Atlantic.

"The irony is not lost on me that he arrived in the Caribbean on the day that those MPs who actually feel a sense of duty to their constituents were debating global anti-corruption standards."

Another English MP, Andrew Mitchell MP of Sutton Coldfield in Birmingham, was revealed in the latest register of financial interests to be earning more than £150,000 across multiple consultancy and advisory roles.

Since last March Mr Mitchell has received £39,600 in return for nine days’ work a year as a senior adviser ‘on African matters’ to an investment bank called SouthBridge and £50,000 a year plus VAT as a senior adviser to private equity and venture capital firm Kingsley Capital Partners.

The Guardian reported on Tuesday (9 November) that more than a quarter of Tory MPs have second jobs totalling a combined amount of over £4 million.

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