British government embroiled in corruption scandals

November 14, 2021 - 18:40

TEHRAN - In recent days, the British Premier Boris Johnson and his ruling Conservative Party have been caught up in a number of corruption scandals ranging from controversial lobbying to second jobs outside parliament and the Prime Minister's own financial affairs all being in the spotlight.

This current round of corruption scandals started after the government's efforts to save the now former Member of Parliament Owen Paterson from a 30-day suspension from the House of Commons.
Parliament's own sleaze watchdog found Paterson to have breached lobbying rules when he was earning £110,000 a year in private sector work for two companies.

Encouraged by Boris Johnson, the government’s members of parliament tried to block what should have been a straightforward immediate suspension for Paterson. Instead, enjoying the power of a parliamentary majority, Tory MPs voted to change parliaments’ own standards rules with their own Conservative-majority committee.

What followed was a powerful backlash from opposition parties who labeled the government as “corrupt” and pledged to boycott their new committee. Johnson performed another very quick U-turn (a now trademark signature of the government). This time the U-turn was done in a matter of hours (maybe a record).

Despite pleading his innocence, Paterson subsequently went on to resign but the Prime Minister came under huge pressure, including from some members of his own party to apologize. During an emergency debate, the opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer told parliament that the Prime Minister has given the "green light to corruption.” 

Critics are calling on the prime minister to show leadership and order an "urgent independent investigation" into the MPs lucrative work.Johnson was absent from the session and Starmer said "Instead of repairing the damage he has done, the prime minister is running scared." He accused Johnson of damaging “our democracy" and acting on the basis of "self-preservation not the national interest.” The main British opposition party leader added "when the prime minister gives the green light to corruption, he corrodes that trust. When he says the rules to stop vested interests don't apply to his friends, he corrodes that trust and when he deliberately undermines those charged with stopping corruption, he corrodes that trust. And that is exactly what the prime minister did”

The outrage over Paterson's lobbying triggered fresh scrutiny of members of parliament who also have lucrative secondary jobs, with special focus being paid on conservative MP Geoffrey Cox, who is one of the British parliament's biggest earners from jobs outside the legislature.

It came to light that he voted by proxy in parliament (something that was only allowed earlier this year because of the coronavirus pandemic) while earning hundreds of thousands of pounds conducting other business more than 4,000 miles away in the Caribbean. During a corruption inquiry, it has been revealed the conservative MP earned more than £800,000 for his work with a law company that represents the British Virgin Islands government. He declared hundreds of hours of work over the past months but has spoken in just one parliament debate. 

Opposition parties have raised a valid point that his constituents "must be wondering if Geoffrey Cox is a Caribbean-based barrister or a Conservative MP.”

Critics are calling on the prime minister to show leadership and order an "urgent independent investigation" into the MPs lucrative work. On top of that, new evidence just recently surfaced that Geoffrey Cox is claiming £22,000 a year in taxpayer’s money to rent a house in London while at the same time collecting thousands of pounds in rent letting out another property which he owns in the British capital. The government is now facing more pressure following that disclosure as the former attorney general now stands to make more than £1 million, which is on top of the annual £81,000 salary paid to every member of parliament.

The extent of the housing scandal even reached the offices of the Metropolitan Police after a letter was sent to them by the Scottish National Party calling on the force to launch a "cash for honours" investigation.

On top of that, according to a report by the Sunday Times newspaper, 15 of the last 16 Conservative Party treasurers have been offered a seat in the House of Lords in exchange for donating more than £3 million to the Conservative party. They include Peter Cruddas, who took his seat after Boris Johnson rejected the advice of the House of Lords Appointments Commission not to appoint him. The newspaper cited an ex-party chairman saying "the truth is the entire political establishment knows this happens and they do nothing about it… The most telling line is, once you pay your £3m, you get your peerage."

This all comes amid revelations the prime minister himself had enjoyed a luxury holiday in Spain last month after he made former MP Peter Goldsmith a peer. Johnson stayed at the holiday home of now Lord Goldsmith's family "free of charge.” Goldsmith is a government minister who was a Conservative MP before losing his seat in the 2019 general election. 

Despite his rejection by voters Johnson made Goldsmith a Tory peer in the House of Lords which meant he could retain his position as a minister.

The holiday was not declared by Johnson in a separate register of MPs' interests. That raised speculation the prime minister did not want to declare the value of the holiday, with the Goldsmiths' holiday home reported to cost as much as £25,000 a week to rent. And reports have just surfaced that according to Spanish courts the luxury villa is linked to property businesses owned by Goldsmith that are engaged in a multimillion-pound tax evasion scheme. 

All this comes on the backdrop of the Prime Minister’s Downing Street flat refurbishment earlier this year which raised many questions as to how and from where the money came for the work. In leaked emails, it has now emerged that a multimillionaire Conservative party donor offered the party a £58,000 donation last year. According to the leaked emails seen by the Daily Mail newspaper, the donor also mentioned a £15,000 donation.
However, only the £15,000 donation has been listed on Electoral Commission records, with mystery surrounding the other sum of £58,000. The Commission is looking into whether laws on political donations have been broken. Conservative Party officials have reportedly been handed the initial findings of the Electoral Commission's investigation and the Commission has reportedly raised the possibility of a soon to come parliamentary investigation. 

Meanwhile, Johnson's ex-adviser Dominic Cummings has claimed the Prime Minister was busy writing a book about Shakespeare instead of dealing with the impending COVID pandemic. Cummings says the PM asked if he could spend time writing the book in January 2020 and alleges Johnson was writing it in February 2020 and dismissing COVID-19 as "the new swine flu.” The UK would go on to have the worst fatality rate from the virus in Europe. 

It has been a terrible nightmare for the government that will have to work hard to regain trust and popularity from the British public again. The chain of events over the past few weeks has had a negative impact for the Tories. According to the latest poll, the main opposition Labour Party has opened up a six-point lead over the Conservatives. That means if an election was to be held today, 44% would vote for Labour compared to just 34% for the Conservatives, according to the Savanta ComRes data. Over the past few days different surveys suggest the government has lost its lead over Labour.

It does appear that during times of economic hardships, British people have had enough of hearing about wealthy politicians being greedy and corrupt while many are struggling to make ends meet.


 

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