Tory MPs accuse Johnson of hypocrisy in crackdown on second jobs
Boris Johnson, who this week ordered his MPs to devote themselves “above all to your constituents” instead of working on second jobs, has himself earned more than £4m from his own outside interests in the last 14 years.
After he re-entered parliament in 2015 he made £1.6m, mostly in his brief spell as a backbencher in 2018 and 2019, between his time as foreign secretary and prime minister, according to Financial Times calculations based on the register of MPs’ financial interests. Those earnings included £450,000 from speeches, £600,000 from columns and £500,000 from book advances and royalties.
He was mayor of London between 2008 and 2016. Tax returns released when he was mayor showed earnings of £2.7m from 2007-2015. This included a £250,000-a-year Daily Telegraph column that he once described as “chicken feed”.
He “double hatted” an earlier stint as an MP from 2001-2008 with the editorship of the Spectator magazine for four years from 2001.
Johnson has not declared any new sources of private income since becoming prime minister in July 2019. Downing Street has not denied claims that he has continued to work intermittently on a Shakespeare biography, which was first commissioned by publisher Hodder and Stoughton in 2015.
Johnson is at the centre of a sleaze scandal which began last week when he whipped Tory MPs to replace the existing standards system in a move designed to benefit Owen Paterson, a former Conservative minister. Paterson had been found to have broken lobbying rules in an “egregious case of paid advocacy”.
Although Johnson has since dropped the proposals — prompting Paterson’s resignation — his party is now caught up in a row over whether MPs should hold second jobs.
On Wednesday he sought to win back public trust on the issue as he insisted that he believed MPs who broke parliamentary rules on second jobs “should be punished”.
“You must put your job as an MP first and you must devote yourself primarily and above all to your constituents,” he told them on Wednesday.
Some Tory MPs accused the prime minister of hypocrisy given his own past private interests. “Boris was literally editing the Spectator while he was an MP,” said one.
Sir Alistair Graham, former chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, told the FT that Johnson did not have “the ideal track record” to be the person in charge of implementing a public desire for improved standards.
Not only had Johnson made millions through his own private work while in politics, but he had also tried to “subvert” the system last week and was himself the subject of up to three probes into his own behaviour, Sir Alistair said.
“When you take those three things together, his track record makes it difficult for him to take the moral high ground on standards issues when he has been very careless in his own approach,” he added.
Lord Jonathan Evans, the current chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life — and a former MI5 chief — said the group had in 2018 recommended a ban on MPs carrying out second jobs as lobbyists.
“The critical thing is that nothing that an MP does should get in the way of their ability to work for their constituents,” he added. “As long as someone spends a long time on their second job, they can’t support their constituents.”