By Kylie MacLellan

LONDON (Reuters) -British lawmakers should be banned from acting as paid consultants or lobbyists, Prime Minister Boris Johnson proposed on Tuesday, in the wake of a row over second jobs posing conflicts of interest.

Johnson has come under pressure from damaging media reports about members of parliament (MPs) being paid for external work which may have breached standards rules, after his government sought to protect a colleague facing suspension by overhauling the system.

“It is imperative that we put beyond doubt the reputation of the House of Commons by ensuring the rules which apply to MPs are up to date, effective and appropriately rigorous,” Johnson said in a letter to House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle.

He said the code of conduct for lawmakers should be updated and those prioritising their outside interests over their constituents “should be investigated and appropriately punished”.

Johnson’s handling of the sleaze row has been criticised by some in his own party as well as opponents, and recent polls suggested the fallout was having an impact on his standing, with some showing the opposition Labour Party now ahead.

Among those in focus has been Conservative Geoffrey Cox, a former attorney general, who newspapers reported used his parliamentary office to take part in an external legal inquiry for which he was paid hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Before Johnson announced his proposals, Labour had said it would hold a vote in parliament on Wednesday on banning lawmakers from paid consultancy work.

Johnson said he backed the 2018 recommendations of parliament’s Committee on Standards in Public Life that second jobs should be “within reasonable limits”.

“They would also ban MPs from exploiting their positions by acting as paid political consultants or lobbyists,” he wrote, adding that while any changes were a matter for parliament, the government would like to see them “as a matter of urgency”.

(Reporting by Kylie MacLellan; editing by Estelle Shirbon and Jonathan Oatis)