Open main menu

Geoffrey Cox (British politician)

Charles Geoffrey Cox QC MP[1] (born 30 April 1960) is a British Conservative Party politician and barrister serving as Member of Parliament (MP) for Torridge and West Devon since the 2005 general election. Cox worked as a barrister from 1982 onwards and was appointed a Queen's Counsel in 2003. On 9 July 2018, he was appointed Attorney General and gave up private practice; prior to this he had been the highest earning MP in the UK.[2]

Geoffrey Cox

Official portrait of Mr Geoffrey Cox crop 2.jpg
Attorney General for England and Wales
Advocate General for Northern Ireland
Assumed office
9 July 2018
Prime MinisterTheresa May
Boris Johnson
Preceded byJeremy Wright
Member of Parliament
for Torridge and West Devon
Assumed office
5 May 2005
Preceded byJohn Burnett
Majority20,686 (34.7%)
Personal details
Born (1960-04-30) 30 April 1960 (age 59)
Wroughton, Wiltshire, England
Political partyConservative
Spouse(s)Jeanie Cox
Alma materDowning College, Cambridge

Early lifeEdit

Charles Geoffrey Cox was born in Wroughton, Wiltshire on 30 April 1960 to Michael and Diane Cox. He was educated at King's College, Taunton, an independent school in Somerset. He studied law and classics at Downing College, Cambridge.[3][4]

Legal careerEdit

Called to the Bar at the Middle Temple in 1982, Cox started practice as a barrister; in 1992, he co-founded Thomas More Chambers, serving as its Head of Chambers. He was appointed a Queen's Counsel in 2003.[5]

For part of his career as a barrister, Cox was Standing Counsel to the government of the Indian Ocean island nation of Mauritius. His cases have included "civil fraud and asset recovery, commercial, human rights, defamation, and judicial review actions". He has frequently appeared as leading counsel in the Supreme Court or the Privy Council, and he was increasingly instructed to lead in commercial actions and arbitrations overseas, appearing in the DIFC, Mauritius and the Cayman Islands.[5]

His criminal cases have included the Jubilee line corruption trial; representing Virendra Rastogi the owner of RBG Resources;[6] and successfully defending Kingsman Darren Fallon of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment, who had been accused of war crimes related to the death of Baha Mousa.[7] His practice has also included a wide range of commercial, human rights and constitutional cases both in the UK and overseas.

In 2014, Cox successfully defended the former Premier (and current Leader of the Opposition) of the Cayman Islands, McKeeva Bush, on charges of corruption and misuse of office.[8] In March 2015, Cox successfully defended the deputy Editor of The Sun, Geoff Webster, in a trial of four journalists resulting from Operation Elveden.[9] The jury had to decide at what point the behaviour of those on trial could be considered a criminal rather than a serious disciplinary matter; even the lawyers found this difficult to define.[10] Cox subsequently publicly criticised the vagueness of the law, and its disproportionate use that had led to the prosecution.[9]

Parliamentary careerEdit

Cox was first selected to stand for Parliament in 2000 by the Torridge and West Devon Conservatives. In the following 2001 general election, he came second to incumbent Liberal Democrat John Burnett by 1,194 votes.[11][12]

After the 2001 election, Cox was reselected. Burnett announced in 2003 that he would not contest the seat again, and at the 2005 general election Cox defeated the new Liberal Democrat candidate, David Walter, gaining a majority of 3,236.[13] Cox made his maiden speech in the House of Commons on 28 June 2005, which was voted by fellow MPs as being one of the four best maiden speeches of the parliament.

Cox was re-elected as MP for Torridge and West Devon at the 2015 general election with an increased majority of 18,403 votes (32.5%).[14] This majority increased by over 2,000 votes at the 2017 election to 20,686 (34.7%).[15]

In January 2016, it was reported he had a number of office expense claims for items, such as a 49p pint of milk, rejected by the Commons authorities. He was criticised for this as at the time Cox was Britain's highest-paid MP. In response, Cox said that his staff had been unaware of a recent change in the rules for office expenses, which no longer permitted office hospitality items such as tea, coffee or milk to be claimed.[16]

In January 2016, Cox was one of 72 MPs who were themselves landlords who derived an income from a property and who backed the Conservative Government in voting down an amendment in Parliament on rental homes being "fit for human habitation". The Government argued that the law already provided more effective remedies for tenants to report homes in bad repair to local authorities who then had a statutory duty to inspect them and to take action against the landlord, and that the previous Labour Government had for the same reason rejected the proposal.[17]

In February 2016, Cox told the House of Commons that he had concluded, after examining the published renegotiation proposals, that the case for leaving the EU was now overwhelming and that he would vote to do so in the forthcoming referendum.[18]

On 9 July 2018, Cox was appointed to the Cabinet as Her Majesty's Attorney General for England and Wales and Advocate General for Northern Ireland.

In the House of Commons he has sat on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, the Committee on Standards and the Committee on Privileges.[19]

Attorney GeneralEdit

On 9 July 2018, Theresa May appointed Cox as Attorney General (the government's top law officer) taking over from Jeremy Wright following a Cabinet reshuffle, prompted by the resignations of David Davis and Boris Johnson.

On 1 December 2018, The Sunday Times newspaper reported the leaked contents of a recent Geoffrey Cox letter to Cabinet Ministers detailing the Attorney General's legal advice on Theresa May's Brexit deal. The newspaper reported that his legal advice declared the Withdrawal agreement's backstop protocol would mean the UK being indefinitely locked into a customs union with the EU if future negotiations collapse and that the only way the UK could leave the Backstop would be the signing of a future trade deal which could take many years to complete. The former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab and three serving Cabinet members confirmed the contents of the letter to the Sunday Times.[20]

In February 2019, Theresa May placed Cox in charge of negotiating changes to the Northern Ireland backstop in the EU withdrawal agreement.[21]

On 24 September 2019, the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom ruled unanimously that Prime Minister Boris Johnson's prorogation of parliament was unlawful overturning the High Court’s judgment, given by the Lord Chief Justice, in the government’s favour. On the same day, minutes of a conference call between cabinet ministers (which included Cox) were leaked to Sky News. The minutes of the call, which took place after the prorogation had been approved by the Queen, detailed that Cox briefly told the cabinet at that time that in his view the prorogation was lawful and constitutional and that any accusations of unlawfulness "were motivated by political considerations". Cox’s full advice has not been published.[22]

Tax avoidance allegationsEdit

In September 2014, it was reported that Cox was one of a number of individuals investing in the Phoenix Film Partners LLC scheme run by Ingenious PLC which HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) had alleged to be a tax avoidance scheme. Ingenious has contested the allegation and claimed the scheme had been submitted to HMRC for pre-approval and that HMRC had not raised any objections. Cox has said that if the scheme was a tax avoidance scheme, it would have contradicted his instructions to his financial advisers, to whom he specified that he did not wish to be involved in aggressive tax avoidance.[23] Following a string of court victories against the schemes, HM Revenue & Customs has since sought to settle disputes with those involved in the tax avoidance, with an agreed re-payment package. Ingenious PLC were reported to still be disputing the claims.[24]

Outside work whilst employed as an MPEdit

Cox has continued to practise as a Queen's Counsel whilst an MP.[5] According to The Daily Telegraph, based on the declarations in the Register of Members' Interests, Cox's extra-parliamentary work was worth £820,867 in 2014, or 12 times his annual MP salary, whilst the total time on extra-parliamentary work that was registered in 2014 (although the register shows the hours were worked over 3 years) was 1,954 hours.[25] According to the Register as at 2 July 2018, his extra-parliamentary earnings in the 12 months from July 2017 to June 2018 were £487,043; the time expended totalled 1,070 hours, which the register shows was carried out over several years, but which equates to more than six months' work, assuming a standard 40-hour week.

Cox has previously defended his outside work, pointing out that MPs of all parties have practised as QCs over the years, and that the Attorney General and Solicitor General are normally chosen from their ranks.[26] He has argued that he has always been used to long hours, 70 and 80 hour weeks were quite normal at the Bar, and that the Nolan report concluded that Parliament needed people with current experience of a wide range of professional and other backgrounds.[26]

In 2016, the House of Commons Standards Committee—of which he was a member—found that he had committed a serious breach of a House of Commons rule, designed to make transparent an MP's financial interests, after failing to register £400k of outside earnings (11 payments) for legal work within the permitted 28-day period. The payments were registered late, variously between two and seven months after the deadline; Cox said that he had omitted to prioritise the rule in the midst of an intense political and professional schedule. When first registering the payments, in September 2015, Cox drew attention to and apologised to the Registrar for his omission, referring himself to the Parliamentary Commissioner, and stepped down from the Committee.

The Commissioner and the Committee accepted that the payments had not in fact given rise to any conflicts of interest, and that the failure to register the payments within 28 days had thus had no practical effect. Alistair Graham, the former Chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, criticised the lack of punishment and called for a complete reform, while Martin Bell said the Committee on Standards had a long history of inflicting light punishment, which showed that the House was incapable of regulating itself.[27]

On 9 July 2018, Cox gave up all private practice upon his appointment as Attorney General.[28]

Personal lifeEdit

Cox lives in rural West Devon, near Tavistock, and London. As with the majority of MPs who do not represent a constituency close to Parliament, he maintains accommodation on expenses in London for when he is working there.[29] He married Jeanie McDonald in 1985 and they have one daughter and two sons.[3][30]


  1. ^ "No. 59418". The London Gazette. 13 May 2010. p. 8741.
  2. ^ "The richest MPs in Britain based on income". Business Insider. 9 September 2017. Retrieved 16 August 2018.
  3. ^ a b "Cox, Rt Hon. (Charles) Geoffrey". UK Who's Who. Retrieved 25 September 2019.
  4. ^ Zeffman, Henry (13 March 2019). "Geoffrey Cox profile: from back benches to eye of the storm". The Times. London.(subscription required)
  5. ^ a b c "Thomas More Chambers: Geoffrey Cox QC". Archived from the original on 29 November 2014. Retrieved 24 February 2015.
  6. ^ "Fraudster tycoon with Mayfair flat is given £5 million legal aid". London Evening Standard. 2 March 2012. Retrieved 12 October 2015.
  7. ^ Williams, A.T. (18 October 2012). A Very British Killing. Jonathan Cape. p. 200. ISBN 978-0224096881.
  8. ^ James Whittaker (10 October 2014). "Courtroom theater draws crowds". Cayman Compass. Retrieved 4 February 2016.
  9. ^ a b "Sun journalist's lawyer queries use of 'vague' law". BBC News. 21 March 2015. Retrieved 13 April 2015.
  10. ^ O'Carroll, Lisa (20 March 2015). "Acquittal of four senior Sun journalists seen as blow to CPS". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 13 April 2015.
  11. ^ "One change in Devon political map". BBC News. 6 May 2005. Retrieved 25 September 2019.
  12. ^ "Devon West & Torridge". BBC News. Retrieved 25 September 2019.
  13. ^ "Result: Devon West & Torridge". BBC News. 6 May 2005. Retrieved 25 September 2019.
  14. ^ "Devon West & Torridge". BBC News. Retrieved 25 September 2019.
  15. ^ "Devon West & Torridge". BBC News. Retrieved 25 September 2019.
  16. ^ McSmith, Andy (14 January 2016). "Geoffrey Cox: Tory MP has expenses claim for 49p pint of milk rejected by Commons". The Independent. London. Retrieved 9 September 2018.
  17. ^ Stone, Jon (13 January 2016). "Tories vote down law requiring landlords make their homes fit for human habitation". The Independent. London. Retrieved 9 September 2018.
  18. ^ "EU Renegotiation". Personal website. Retrieved 4 February 2016.
  19. ^ "Geoffrey Cox". Parliament UK. Retrieved 9 September 2018.
  20. ^ Shipman, Tim (2 December 2018). "Revealed: Brexit legal advice could sink Theresa May". The Sunday Times. London.(subscription required)
  21. ^ Watt, Nicholas (28 February 2019). "May's fate in the hands of the 'showman'". BBC News. Retrieved 6 March 2019.
  22. ^ "Exclusive: PM was advised by attorney general suspension was 'lawful'". Sky News. Retrieved 24 September 2019.
  23. ^ Greenwell, Faye (17 September 2014). "HMRC probes company in which MP Geoffrey Cox invested". North Devon Journal. Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 1 March 2015.
  24. ^ "HMRC offers film partnerships an end to tax saga". Financial Times. London. 15 January 2016. Retrieved 9 September 2018.
  25. ^ Telford, Lyndsey; Heighton, Luke (22 February 2015). "The MPs who topped up their salaries with £1,600-an-hour second jobs". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 23 February 2015.
  26. ^ a b Cox, Geoffrey (4 June 2013). "Experience of world of work must not be lost in Commons". Western Morning News. Plymouth. Retrieved 13 April 2015.
  27. ^ Hughes, Laura (4 February 2016). "Tory MP Geoffrey Cox will only have to apologise after failing to declare hundreds of thousands of pounds". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 4 February 2016.
  28. ^ "New Attorney General appointed". Government website. Retrieved 10 July 2018.
  29. ^ "IPSA record". IPSA. Retrieved 9 September 2018.
  30. ^ "About Geoffrey". Personal website. Retrieved 9 September 2018.

External linksEdit