Sun, 3 March 2024

Newsletter sign-up

Subscribe now
The House Live All
Women in Westminster: In Conversation With Tulip Siddiq MP Partner content
Press releases

Medically Vulnerable MP Accuses Geoffrey Cox Of "Disgraceful" Abuse Of Proxy Voting System

Shadow disabilities minister Vicky Foxcroft MP

4 min read

Former Attorney General Geoffrey Cox has been criticised by Labour's shadow disabilities minister for abusing a system designed for vulnerable MPs shielding from Covid-19 when he voted by-proxy from the Caribbean while working on a lucrative legal contract.

Vicky Foxcroft said Cox's actions made a mockery of a voting system MPs like her campaigned to have introduced so that clinically vulnerable MPs could still vote after the remotely, even after Covid electronic voting measures were phased out. 

The Daily Mail reported that Cox, the Conservative MP for Torridge and West Devon and a barrister, spent time in the Carribean this spring giving legal advice to the British Virgin Islands (BVI) government and while there voted by proxy. Earlier this month he registereed earnings of £400,000 a year for 41 hours a month from one law firm, on top of his £81,000 salary. 

Parliament introduced proxy voting for any MP that could not or didn't wish to vote in person for "medical or public health reasons realting to the pandemic", which ran until July 2021. 

Foxcroft, who was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, meaning that her immune system is compromised felt Cox "blatantly took advantage" of measures intended to protect people from Covid. 

"It's pretty disgraceful," she added. 

"Jacob Rees-Mogg continually criticised proxy voting and said it shouldn't be continued. He claimed MPs were just sunning themselves and not representing their constituents.

"As someone who was shielding, I found it offensive when he kept repeating this mantra as a way of justifying removing many of these arrangements.

"Now it transpires he was actually talking about his Tory friends. We’ve found out that not only was Geoffrey Cox sunning himself, he was also earning money from a very lucrative second job, rather than focusing on his constituents and doing the job he is paid to do by the tax payer. 

"He's taken advantage of and abused the parliamentary system.

“It beggars belief that anyone would have abused the system in this way.”  

In a statement published on Geoffrey Cox's website today, Cox said he had secured permission from Chief Whip Mark Spencer to use the proxy vote system in this way. 

"Prior to [Cox's] visit to the BVI, he consulted the Chief Whip specifically on this issue and was advised that it was appropriate," the statement read. 

Proxy voting was first introduced in January 2019 as a twelve-month trial to enable MPs to cast a vote on behalf of another MP who was absent as a new parent. This exemption was made permanent in September 2020.

The House of Commons also agreed to extend the proxy voting scheme in June 2020 to include MPs who were unable to attend Westminster for medical of public health reasons related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

This change was a result of heavy lobbying of the government by MPs including Foxcroft who said it was unfair that some MPs couldn't vote because they were shielding.

Conservative MP Robert Halfon, who has cerebral palsy, and Labour's Barry Sheerman, 81, another MP shielding at home during lockdown, also campaigned for proxy voting after the virtual voting came to an end. 

This scheme ran until 22 July this year when voting rules returned to in-person voting in the House of Commons.

Labour's Tulip Siddiq, MP for Hampsted and Kilburn, campaigned to introduce proxy voting for new parents in 2019, after she felt forced to delay her cesarian section so as not to miss out on a key Brexit vote. Previously someone in her situation would have had to be "paired" with another absent MP so their votes would not be cast. Siddiq said she hopes Cox's actions do not undermine a system that has helped MPs in difficult situations still exercise their right to vote. 

“We didn’t fight for proxy voting so that a man working his second job from the Caribbean could shirk his responsibilities," Siddiq told PoliticsHome.  

"It’s behaviour like this that gives politicians a bad name and undermines the case for progressive changes like proxy voting which should be a part of any modern democracy.

“I was the first MP to vote by proxy in 2019 when my C-section meant I physically couldn’t travel into Parliament.

"I have fought alongside some amazing women MPs for this change, because we don’t think it’s fair for our constituents to be denied proper representation if we choose to have children."

Cox has been approached for comment. 

PoliticsHome Newsletters

PoliticsHome provides the most comprehensive coverage of UK politics anywhere on the web, offering high quality original reporting and analysis: Subscribe