Boris Johnson: MPs should be punished for breaking the rules

Boris Johnson has insisted that the UK is “not remotely a corrupt country” and said MPs should be investigated and punished for breaking the rules, as the Conservative party continues to be embroiled in allegations of sleaze.

Speaking in Glasgow, where he was making a brief visit to the Cop26 climate summit as it entered its final days, the prime minister sought to reassure the public after a slew of revelations about the private earnings of his party colleagues. “I genuinely believe that the UK is not remotely a corrupt country, nor do I believe that our institutions are corrupt,” he said.

He declined to comment directly on individual MPs, including the former attorney general Sir Geoffrey Cox, who is under fire over his £1m-plus annual earnings as a barrister.

But Johnson said: “I think what you’ve got is cases where, sadly, MPs have broken the rules in the past, may be guilty of breaking the rules today. What I want to see is them facing appropriate sanctions … The most important thing is, those who break the rules must be investigated and should be punished.”

He was speaking a week after whipping Conservative MPs to back an amendment that sought to avert punishment for Owen Paterson – an MP found to have broken the rules – by tearing up the parliamentary standards system.

Johnson reversed that decision less than 24 hours later after a backlash from Conservative MPs, and has since tabled a motion unpicking the amendment, which MPs will vote on next week. Paterson has since resigned.

Amid a flurry of claims about MPs’ lucrative second jobs and whether they create conflicts of interest, Johnson said in many cases the public believed this outside work “has actually strengthened our democracy”. He said for a hundred years MPs had also worked as “doctors or lawyers or soldiers or firefighters”.

But Johnson stressed that if such second jobs were to continue, “it is crucial that MPs follow the rules” by devoting themselves primarily to their constituents and avoiding “paid advocacy”.

“Anybody who breaks the rules, who engages in paid advocacy in the House of Commons, should be punished,” he said.

Parliament’s standards committee found Paterson had committed an “egregious” breach of the rules by repeatedly lobbying the government on behalf of two companies paying him more than £100,000 a year.

Cox released a statement defending his actions on Wednesday. “He does not believe that he breached the rules, but will of course accept the judgment of the parliamentary commissioner or of the committee on the matter,” said the statement, worded entirely in the third person.

His is only the latest of a string of cases brought to light in the past week after the prime minister’s botched attempt to protect Paterson.

The Guardian revealed on Tuesday that Iain Duncan Smith chaired a taskforce advising the government that made recommendations on how hand sanitiser should be regulated – while being paid £25,000 a year by a company that manufactures hand sanitiser.

General Politics