As we saw with Owen Paterson just last week, Geoffrey Cox’s behavior raises serious questions about the conflicts of interest between MPs with part-time jobs, lobbying or other direct contact with the government. Sir Geoffrey is advising the BVI government on behalf of Withersworldwide LLP (‘Withers’) on an investigation into possible “corruption, abuse of office or other serious dishonesty that has taken place in public office in recent years” – an investigation that has been carried out by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, part of the government in which Sir Geoffrey himself only worked in February 2020.
In approving his role at Withers, the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA) made the appointment of Sir Geoffrey “in order to mitigate the potential risks to the government associated with this appointment” and stated that it was in his case “Unknown risks” in relation to what he may have to do on behalf of his new employer. He had to “consult the AGO”. [Attorney General’s Office] at the earliest possible point in time to seek advice in any case in which there is a reasonable expectation of a risk of duplication between your previous function and your new appointment ”. He was also required not to avail himself of any privileged information from his tenure and not to personally lobby the UK government for two years from his last day in office and not to make use, directly or indirectly, of his contacts in the Government and / or the Crown Service, to influence the policy, not to undertake any work that involves advising on any offer or contract that is directly related to the work of the UK Government, or to contact the Attorney General directly with respect to any other matters relating to Withers or its customers. It was clear to ACOBA that if Sir Geoffrey had any doubts, “he must consult the prosecutor as to the appropriateness of a particular assignment”.
It is difficult to see how these conditions can be met when Sir Geoffrey is advising a well-known tax haven in connection with a UK government self-initiated corruption investigation. We need answers to what happened here.