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Rishi Sunak goes on offensive in row over Boris Johnson honours list | Rishi Sunak

Rishi Sunak goes on offensive in row over Boris Johnson honours list | Rishi Sunak

Rishi Sunak has come out fighting against Boris Johnson in the row over the former PM’s failed attempt to give peerages to several close allies.

The prime minister spoke on Monday about the issue for the first time since Friday, when Downing Street published Johnson’s resignation honours list without the names of several of those he wanted to elevate to the House of Lords.

Those excised from the peerage list included the Conservative MPs Nadine Dorries, Nigel Evans and Alok Sharma – the first two of whom promptly resigned from parliament, along with Johnson, triggering three testing byelections for the Tories.

Sunak on Monday pushed back at suggestions by allies of Johnson that the prime minister had given his predecessor assurances that the MPs would be given peerages, either immediately or after the next election.

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Asked about the row during the London Tech Week conference, Sunak said: “Boris Johnson asked me to do something that I wasn’t prepared to do, because I didn’t think it was right. That was either overrule the Holac [House of Lords Appointments Commission] committee, or make promises to people.

“Now, I wasn’t prepared to do that, so I didn’t think he was right. And if people don’t like that then tough.”

The comments mark one of the first times Sunak has spoken publicly about his simmering row with Johnson, which started after Sunak resigned as chancellor in Johnson’s government, helping trigger the latter’s resignation.

Tensions have been reignited in recent weeks by the arguments surrounding Johnson’s honours list, the parliamentary inquiry into Partygate and the Covid-19 inquiry.

Johnson announced on Friday afternoon he would stand down as an MP with immediate effect, after learning that members of the parliamentary privileges committee were preparing to recommend he be suspended from parliament for at least 10 days. Such a sanction would have triggered a recall petition in his Uxbridge constituency, and potentially a byelection after that.

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Rather than face such a process, Johnson decided to stand down straight away, launching a broadside at the privileges committee as he did so. Over the weekend, his allies also criticised No 10 over the honours list and the submissions to the Covid inquiry.

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Johnson’s allies told the Times on Monday the former prime minister believed he had been given assurances by Sunak during a 45-meeting over a week ago that the MPs would be given their peerages. Downing Street sources have denied this characterisation of their conversation however, insisting Sunak was keen not to make any promises to his predecessor.

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Dorries told the Times on Monday she believed Downing Street “deliberately withheld information” during the vetting process before the list was published.

However, ministers have sought to push the blame on to Johnson for any misunderstanding. Grant Shapps, the energy secretary, told Sky News on Sunday: “Occasionally Boris wouldn’t be all over the detail – I don’t know if that’s what happened in this particular case.”

Kiran Stacey Political correspondent

Published: 2023-06-12 10:21:42

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