Boris Johnson is putting Rishi Sunak in a difficult position once again, as he nominates Daily Mail chief Paul Dacre for a peerage - despite a previous rejection.
Sources with knowledge of the former Prime Minister’s resignation honours list have told The Guardian that Mr Dacre has been put forward for a peerage for a second time. The newspaper boss previously received a nomination from Johnson while he was still at Number 10, but this was rejected by the House of Lords Appointments Commission after concerns were raised over legal action the Daily Mail was facing.
If similar objections are raised again, it will create a headache for Sunak, who will have to decide whether to overrule the decision made in the House of Lords, or risk a spat with both his old boss - as well as with one of the most powerful newspaper figures in the UK.
The Prime Minister is is already under pressure to reject Johnson’s resignation honours list, which reportedly includes the name of the MP’s father, Stanley Johnson. Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer was among those to accuse Johnson of nepotism over the decision, remarking: “It’s classic of a man like Johnson. I mean, I think the public will just think this is absolutely outrageous. The idea of an ex-prime minister bestowing honours on his dad - for services to what?”
Johnson has also faced allegations of ‘cronyism’ - the practice of awarding jobs or other advantages to friends or trusted colleagues - over his list, which is said to include key allies such as former minister Nadine Dorries and David Ross, a donor to the Conservative Party. Speaking on these reports, Liberal Democrats chief whip Wendy Chamberlain urged Sunak to veto Johnson’s list if future ones “are to have any shred of credibility”.
What are resignation honours?
Every UK prime minister who leaves Downing Street is allowed to nominate the people who they want recognised with peerages or knighthoods, a practice which has long been somewhat controversial.
But Johnson’s list is causing more of a stir than usual - with the full list still yet to be released six months after his departure from office.
Sources have suggested the Uxbridge and South Ruislip MP has already had to slash the number of names he proposed, with Cabinet Office officials reportedly telling him to cut his list from about 100 to 60. Johnson’s predecessors Theresa May and David Cameron gave out honours to 51 and 59 people respectively.
A spokesperson for Johnson said they could not comment on honours - but an ally of the former Prime Minister claimed: “The list is shorter than David Cameron’s or Theresa May’s, so everyone can relax.”
Downing Street also declined to comment, except to confirm that the list is now being reviewed by the House of Lords Appointments Commission.
What does it mean for Rishi Sunak?
It is the latest sign of tension between Johnson and Sunak, who once worked so closely during the coronavirus pandemic. Just a week ago, Johnson weighed in on Sunak’s new Brexit trade deal for Northern Ireland, saying he would find it “very difficult” to vote for.
Sunak has so far resisted commenting on any tensions with his former boss, telling Piers Morgan in an interview in January, who claimed Johnson was “acting like he’s still Prime Minister”, that he had no issue with his behaviour. “No, gosh,” he said, “we’ve got a long list of previous Prime Ministers, and the fact they still want to contribute to public life is great.”
But with pressure mounting for Sunak to intervene in Johnson’s latest headline-generating move, navigating this next step in their relationship may prove to be more of a challenge.