Rishi Sunak ‘talking rubbish’ in honours list row


Boris Johnson entered in a public slanging match with Rishi Sunak on Monday, saying the Prime Minister was “talking rubbish” in a row over his honours list.

‌Breaking his silence on the resignation of Mr Johnson on Monday morning, the Prime Minister accused his predecessor-but-one of having asked him to overrule the vetting committee to push through his House of Lords nominations.

‌Mr Sunak told an audience in central London that this was not something he was “prepared to do” and if people did not like that, it was “tough”.

‌In the afternoon, Mr Johnson hit back – rejecting Mr Sunak’s claims and accusing him of secretly blocking peerages for Nadine Dorries, the former culture secretary, and others.

‌He released a statement saying: “Rishi Sunak is talking rubbish.

‌“To honour these peerages it was not necessary to overrule Holac [House of Lords Appointments Commission] – but simply to ask them to renew their vetting, which was a mere formality.”

Privileges committee report due

‌The row came as the Commons privileges committee met to finalise its report into Mr Johnson’s conduct over partygate, which is expected to be damning.

‌However, it is not expected that the report will be published until Wednesday, and it is not yet known whether there would be a Commons debate on the issue.

It is understood the report has been delayed because the committee found to its dismay it takes 48 hours to print a parliamentary document.

‌The inquiry is thought to have ruled that Mr Johnson lied to Parliament when he told MPs Covid rules were followed in Downing Street, despite boozy parties taking place while social distancing restrictions were in place.

‌Reports suggest the panel was set to recommend at least a 10-day suspension, reaching the threshold for a by-election to be potentially triggered in Mr Johnson’s west London seat.

‌Mr Johnson accused the committee of “bias” and likened it to a “kangaroo court”.

‌Mr Johnson’s allies were concerned Labour could seek to use any Commons vote to impose a lifetime ban on him returning to Parliament, but a spokesman for Sir Keir Starmer rejected this.

‌On Monday, Mr Johnson formally resigned as an MP under the archaic process of being appointed to be Steward and Bailiff of the Three Hundreds of Chiltern.

‌Although he announced he was stepping down on Friday night, he technically remained an MP until Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor, appointed him to the historical position – which in modern times has been used to facilitate the resignations of MPs.

‌“The Chancellor of the Exchequer has this day appointed Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson to be Steward and Bailiff of the Three Hundreds of Chiltern,” said the Treasury.

‌Elected MPs are in theory unable to resign and must become disqualified if they wish to quit Westminster while Parliament is sitting.

‌Holding the Chiltern Hundreds or the Manor of Northstead titles immediately disqualifies a person by law from being an MP and therefore removes them from the House of Commons.

On Monday, another Tory MP, Nigel Adams, also formally resigned – being named the Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead. He will likely only stay in the position briefly until Ms Dorries takes it on to formally quit.

‌There have been claims that Mr Johnson reached a “gentleman’s agreement” with Mr Sunak that he would wave through the honours list and allow the MPs to be re-vetted by Holac at a later date, so they would not have to stand down now.

‌One Downing Street source said the Cabinet Office had made it clear to Mr Johnson that there is no re-vetting process. ‌

But Mr Johnson’s camp accused the man who was his chancellor of having “secretly blocked” the peerages of Ms Dorries and other allies in his resignation list.

‌An ally of the former prime minister said: “Rishi secretly blocked the peerages for Nadine and others. He refused to ask for them to undergo basic checks that could have taken only a few weeks or even days.”

Chris Bryant, the Labour MP and former chairman of the Commons privileges committee, tweeted:

Purely puerile was how I described Johnson’s hissy fit resignation. I hadn’t thought it would be followed by pathetic playground antics by both Sunak and Johnson arguing over who’s lying and who started it.

— Chris Bryant (@RhonddaBryant) June 12, 2023

The escalating war of words came after Downing Street published Mr Johnson’s resignation honours list on Friday, lacking the names of sitting MPs including Sir Alok Sharma, who was Cop26 president, and Mr Adams.

‌Hours later, Mr Johnson announced that he would stand down as an MP as the privileges committee investigating whether he lied to Parliament over partygate prepared to find that he had broken the rules and recommended a suspension that could trigger a by-election in his Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency.

‌Mr Johnson’s camp has accused his successor of breaking the deal that has now enflamed tensions rather than buying a ceasefire in the hostilities.

‌The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said it was “entirely untrue to say that anyone from No 10 attempted to remove or change” the list approved by Holac, understood to have been finalised in February.

‌The body, which Mr Johnson himself overruled while in No 10 over the peerage of the Tory donor Peter Cruddas, has confirmed it did not support eight nominees put forward by the former leader.

‌The spokesman said Mr Sunak did not regret his comments, and he had been “asked a direct question” before giving “a clear answer”.‌

Nadine Dorries labelled Mr Sunak a “privileged posh boy” as she accused him of stopping her getting a peerage because of her working class background.

She told Talk TV he had been “duplicitous and cruel” and said she was sure Mr Johnson had not deceived her over whether she would get an honour.

In a further escalation, Mr Johnson told the Express on Monday: “We must fully deliver on Brexit and on the 2019 manifesto. We must smash Labour at the next election.

“Nothing less than absolute victory and total Brexit will do – and as the great Arnold Schwarzenegger said, I’ll be back.”