Boris Johnson Overrules House Of Lords Watchdog To Hand Peerage To Former Tory Treasurer Who Gave The Party £3.5m
Businessman Peter Cruddas has been nominated for a peerage by Boris Johnson (BBC)
Boris Johnson is embroiled in a fresh cronyism row after going against the wishes of a parliamentary watchdog to hand a peerage to the controversial former Tory treasurer Peter Cruddas.
The House of Lords Appointment Commission (HOLAC), which vets political nominations, recommended the businessman - who has donated more than £3.5million to Conservatives over the years - not be elevated to the upper chamber.
It is understood they cited issues relating back to the so-called “cash for access” scandal in 2012, when he was accused by the Sunday Times of charging people to meet then-Prime Minister David Cameron and his Chancellor George Osborne.
Mr Cruddas, who founded the FTSE-250 financial services company CMC Markets with a £10,000 investment and went on to be named the richest man in the City of London, successfully sued the newspaper for libel over the allegations and won £180,000 in 2013.
But that figure was later significantly reduced after a Court of Appeal judgement in 2015 found the central allegation was borne out by the facts, and aspects of his conduct had been "unacceptable and wrong”.
However it upheld the ruling that other allegations in the original article were still false and defamatory, and he was allowed to keep £50,000 in damages.
Writing to HOLAC Mr Johnson says he has “previously invited the commission to consider a nomination” for Mr Cruddas, who was one of the founders of Vote Leave campaign and supported Mr Johnson’s bid for Tory leader in 2019.
The PM said in his letter to its chair Lord Bew, after they informed him they unable to support such a move, that this case was a “clear and rare exception”.
He rejected any "historic concerns" about Mr Cruddas, saying “the most serious accusations levelled at the time were found to be untrue and libellous”, and an internal Conservative Party investigation "found there had been no intentional wrongdoing”.
Mr Johnson added: "Mr Cruddas has made outstanding contributions in the charitable sector and in business and has continued his long track record of committed political service.”
But Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said: "After months of revelations about the cronyism at the heart of this government, it's somehow appropriate the Prime Minister has chosen to end the year with a peerage to Peter Cruddas.
"It's never been more clear: there is one rule for the Conservatives and their chums, another for the rest of the country.”
While HOLAC is in charge of vetting nominees it is ultimately only an advisory body, meaning the PM has the power to overrule them.
A statement on the government website says: “The Commission has completed its vetting in respect of all nominees.
“The Commission advised the Prime Minister that it could not support one nominee – Peter Cruddas.
“The Prime Minister has considered the Commission’s advice and wider factors, and concluded that, exceptionally, the nomination should proceed.”
Mr Cruddas is one of seven people Mr Johnson has placed on a list of Conservative nominations for the Queen to bestow a peerage on in a surprise honours list today.
They include Sir Richard Benyon, a former minister at Defra who stood down as the MP for Newbury last year, and three former MEPs.
One of those, Dan Hannan, co-authored a book published in 2008 where he wrote that the current House of Lords “embodies everything that is wrong with the administration of Britain”.
He added: It is made up of people who can pass laws without having to justify themselves to those who must obey their laws.”
And Mr Hannan also wrote in a column for ConservativeHome in 2015: “David Cameron is doing what Asquith threatened to do in 1910: de-legitimising the House of Lords by flooding it with inconsequential nobodies.”
The QC David Wolfson has also been nominated for a peerage, and will immediately become a junior minister at the Ministry of Justice from the Lords.
Elsewhere on the list Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has nominated five people to the upper chamber, including the ex-Darlington MP Jenny Chapman, who ran his leadership campaign.
And four crossbench peers will be created, including veteran diplomat Sir Simon McDonald, the former head of Mi5 Sir Andrew Parker, and the ex-Archbishop of York John Sentamu.
The Lord Speaker, Lord Fowler, welcomed Dr Sentamu’s nomination, but overall was highly critical of the creation of another 16 peers, bringing the total for the year up to 52.
“This list will bring the total in the House of Lords to over 830 - almost 200 more than the House of Commons,” he said, suggesting it “may also now be the time to review the role and the powers” of HOLAC.
Adding: “The number of appointments now being made also run smack against the recommendations of the Burns committee on the size of the House that was overwhelmingly endorsed by the House of Lords.
“The committee recommended that numbers should be reduced to 600. To add insult to injury, for the second time the announcement of new peers has been made when Parliament is not sitting.
“Sometimes the Lords itself is blamed for a failure to change. My answer to that is- don't blame the Lords, blame successive governments who have avoided the subject.
“The reply has been that change is ‘not a priority’. It is possible that with the last two lists, the public may now disagree.”