“I think in my mind I see a noble and polishing nation waking up like a strong man after sleep and shaking her invincible locks,” said Sir Geoffrey Cox as he became 2018’s breakout political star.
“Thinking I see her as an eagle mourning her mighty youth and turning on her unforeseen eyes at the full beam of dinner.”
It is not very often that a 12-minute conference speech for the Conservative Party – especially a speech quoting 17th-century poet John Milton – can catapult a political career.
But Sir Geoffrey’s 2018 speech to Tory members in Birmingham – as a surprise warm-up to then-Prime Minister Theresa May – ensured that his trademark, flourishing voice became part of the political front line in Westminster’s upcoming Brexit battles.
And then “Brexit Mufasa” was born – or “Tory Gandalf”, depending on your choice of deep-toned film character – who went on to become a key member of Mrs May’s cabinet.
Sir Geoffrey had been a public prosecutor for less than three months before his surprising appearance on the Tory conference stage.
According to reports at the time, Sir Geoffrey was appointed by Mrs May due to the fact that he was the only Brexiteer QC at hand.
And as a Member of Parliament on the back table, he had also shown loyalty to Mrs May by defending her Brexit strategy – known as the Checkers Plan – at a difficult committee meeting in 1922 with Tory MPs in the wake of Boris Johnson’s resignation as Secretary of State.
Prior to his appointment as the government’s top legal adviser, Sir Geoffrey had been a highly paid lawyer who, since his election to parliament in 2005, had combined his paid legal work with his duties as MP for Torridge and West Devon.
After studying at Cambridge University, Sir Geoffrey was called to the bar in the early 1980s and went on to become head of the Thomas More Chambers.
His time in government, for which he was picked from the relative ambiguity of Westminster, coincided with the bitter Brexit battles between MPs in the House of Commons.
Despite her loyalty to Mrs May, it was Sir Geoffrey who gave what was perhaps the fatal blow to her Brexit divorce deal.
Following the first Commons defeat of Mrs May’s agreement in January 2019, Sir Geoffrey was given the task of securing legally binding amendments to the agreement in negotiations with EU officials.
This focused on Mrs May’s plan for a Northern Ireland “backstop”, which was intended to avoid border controls on the island of Ireland, but which was unpopular with the DUP and the Conservative Brexiteers.
Sir Geoffrey referred to the changes he was seeking from the EU as “Cox’s codpiece”, and told MEPs at one point: “What I’m worried about ensuring is that what’s inside the codpiece is in fully functional condition. “
But ahead of another Commons vote on Mrs May’s agreement, Sir Geoffrey acknowledged in his official council that even with his changes, the “legal risk” remained “unchanged” that Britain has no chance of leaving the backstop in the future, if it wanted to do so.
Opponents of Mrs May’s agreement seized Sir Geoffrey’s concession and her Brexit divorce agreement was subsequently defeated for the second time.
A third Commons defeat on the Brexit withdrawal agreement eventually led to Mrs May resigning as Prime Minister, after which she was replaced by Mr Johnson at 10 Downing Street.
Sir Geoffrey, who was often compared to the TV character Rumpole from Bailey during his appearances in the Commons, had spoken at the official launch of Mr Johnson’s leadership campaign.
He was originally appointed Minister of Justice by the new Prime Minister, but was later fired in a reshuffle in February 2020.
In his farewell letter, Sir Geoffrey referred to the “sincere and independent” legal advice he had provided in his role, amid reports that Mr Johnson had grown tired of Sir Geoffrey speaking independently at cabinet meetings.
The former minister spent some of his time during the first lockdown of coronavirus to record a bedtime story for children.
And within weeks of his dismissal as justice minister, Sir Geoffrey returned to lucrative private legal work.
In September 2020, he started representing the global company Withers, which has since paid him more than £ 800,000.
Withers is currently representing the Government of the British Virgin Islands during a corruption inquiry launched by the Foreign Office in January this year.
I have been asked to record a bedtime story for children while we are trapped in the resume. This is a Chinese fairy tale titled “The Stone Monkey”, narrated by HA Giles in a beautiful little brochure with tales published in 1911. I hope you enjoy it. https://t.co/30h671jXx7
– Geoffrey Cox QC MP (@Geoffrey_Cox) March 31, 2020
It has now since been revealed that Sir Geoffrey took advantage of the COVID events for vote by proxy in the Commons while working in the Caribbean archipelago.
The 61-year-old is also facing allegations that he used his parliamentary office to take on some of his work for Withers, which saw him accused of “shamelessly” breaking Commons rules.
Sir Geoffrey has only spoken in one Commons debate since leaving the government in February 2020.
He has refused to violate Commons rules during his work for the Government of the British Virgin Islands.