Boris Johnson’s “absurd” plan to give his father a knighthood in his resignation honours will discredit the system and “corrode public trust”, senior Conservatives have told The Independent.
Top Tories joined Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer in condemning the move by the former prime minister – one of up to 100 names he has reportedly nominated for honours.
Former cabinet minister David Davis told The Independent: “I think it’s ridiculous. It’s discrediting the honours system, which is rather a good one in that it doesn’t cost money and it recognises achievements of ordinary people.
“There has been progressive corrosion of public trust in this system, so it doesn’t help to undermine that trust further just because of a family favour. It’s corrosive,” said Mr Davis.
A former Tory minister added: “The idea of Sir Stanley would be ridiculous nepotism, completely without merit. The trouble with Boris is he tarnishes everything he touches. And now he is discrediting the entire honours system.”
The senior figure said: “The honours committee should weed out the majority of these names and spare Rishi Sunak the embarrassment of having to veto them and correct Boris’s bad judgement.”
Another ex-Tory minister told The Independent Mr Johnson putting his dad forward for a knighthood was “another bizarre moment” from the former party leader.
An initial report in The Times that the former PM has nominated his father for a knighthood as part of his resignation honours was not denied by his spokesperson. “We don’t comment on honours,” they said.
It sparked outrage across the political spectrum and calls for Rishi Sunak to veto the proposed knighthood. “The idea that Boris Johnson is nominating his dad for a knighthood, you only need to say it to realise just how ridiculous it is,” said Sir Keir.
“It’s classic of a man like Johnson. I think the public will just think this is absolutely outrageous,” said the Labour leader, adding: “The idea of an ex-prime minister bestowing honours on his dad – for services to what?”
Lib Dem chief whip Wendy Chamberlain said “nepotism” from the former PM wasn’t new. “If future honours lists are to have any shred of credibility, Sunak must step in and veto this list.”
SNP MP Tommy Sheppard accused Mr Johnson of “arrogance” and also said he was “making a mockery of the honours system – just like he a made a mockery of British politics”.
In 2021, senior Tory MP Caroline Nokes and a journalist publicly accused Stanley Johnson – a former MEP who campaigns on the environment – of touching them at Tory party conferences.
Ms Nokes accused Mr Johnson Snr of forcefully smacking her on the backside and making a vulgar comment at the conference in 2003. He said he had “no recollection” of either incident.
The 82-year-old, who campaigned for the UK to remain in the EU at the Brexit vote, became a French citizen after applying in 2021.
The row has raised fresh questions for the former Tory leader, who had already faced accusations of cronyism after nominating his brother Jo Johnson for a peerage in 2020.
His resignations honours list is proving highly controversial. He is thought to have chosen more than a dozen of his closest allies for peerages – including Nadine Dorries and Scottish secretary Alister Jack.
Previous reports have indicated he is also putting forward former assistant Charlotte Owens, in her late twenties, and 30-year-old aide Ross Kempsell, who previously worked for TalkTV.
Despite previous speculation that the ex-PM’s wife Carrie and sister Rachel could also be in line for honours, The Independent understands they are not on the list put forward by Mr Johnson.
Rachel Johnson defended the idea of her father getting a knighthood, telling The News Agents podcast that “if my brother hadn’t been prime minister, I think my father could have been in line for some sort of recognition in his own right”.
She added: “He’s done much more for the Tory party and the environment than dozens of people who have been given gongs to at this point. And I might also say that it’s not unprecedented that a prime minister puts a family member, whatever you may feel about it, on his resignation honours list.”
The Johnson list is currently being vetted by Cabinet Office officials before the honours committee decides on which names go foward to Buckingham Palace. Officials at No 10 are said to have concerns about the size of the list, as well as some of the names of those put forward.
Mr Sunak’s official spokesperson said on Monday that reports about a knighthood for Mr Johnson’s father were “speculative”, adding: “The detail [of resignation honours] is still being worked through.”
The latest row comes as Mr Johnson was accused of acting like Donald Trump in his efforts to undermine the Partygate inquiry, while Sir Keir comes under pressure to reveal when he approached top civil servant Sue Gray to be his chief of staff.
Mr Johnson claimed it was “surreal” that the committee of MPs investigating whether he lied to parliament relied on evidence from Ms Gray, who reported on Covid rule breaches last year. But the committee said it had gathered evidence independently of Ms Gray.
Sir Keir refused to say when he first approached Ms Gray amid a Tory outcry – but he insisted he had “absolutely no contact” with the civil servant as she carried out her Partygate probe early last year.
“I’ve been looking for a chief of staff for a little while now, but Sue will lay that out, but there’s nothing improper at all,” the Labour leader said during a phone-in on LBC Radio.
Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Ashworth told Times Radio that he understood discussions between Ms Gray and Sir Keir have been ongoing for “several weeks”.
Ms Gray had been expected to submit a formal request on Monday to take on the role when she puts in her application to parliament’s anti-corruption watchdog, the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba).
But the Sunak government suggested she had failed to followed the rules for notifying Acoba officials about her decision to take up a post with Labour.
Cabinet Office minister Jeremy Quin told the Commons: “The rules state that approval must be obtained prior to a job offer being announced. The Cabinet Office has not as yet been informed that the relevant notification to Acoba has been made.”
Mr Quin called on Labour to produce a list of meetings with Ms Gray. “Why are they refusing to publish when they met with Sue Gray? Exactly what is Labour trying to hide? They believe Acoba rules should be tightened. But why weren’t the current ones followed?”