Is Stanley Johnson getting a knighthood? Boris Johnson cronyism row and resignation honours - explained

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Rishi Sunak has already faced calls to block the peerages and knighthoods Boris Johnson wants to give to allies, including Nadine Dorries and Paul Dacre

Boris Johnson is facing accusations of cronyism on Monday (6 March), after it was reported that he has put his father Stanley Johnson forward for a knighthood.

The former Prime Minister is reported by The Times to have included his 82-year-old father in his resignation honours list, which could contain as many as 100 people. Rishi Sunak has been urged to block the ex-PM’s list, which is rumoured to also include Nadine Dorries and controversial Daily Mail Group chief Paul Dacre.

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Every Prime Minister who leaves office is allowed to nominate the people they want recognised with peerages or knighthoods. David Cameron nominated 62 people, while Theresa May’s list included 60 names. But Johnson’s list has courted controversy given the manner in which he left office last summer, and the sleaze allegations that have dogged him for almost 18 months.

The news about Stanley Johnson is the latest headache the Conservative MP faces. He is expected to give evidence to the MPs standards committee later in March, as they consider whether or not he deliberately misled the House of Commons over Partygate. Meanwhile, he has been dogged by questions about his financial arrangements while in office, and implicated in the leak of Matt Hancock’s Covid WhatsApp messages.

So, is Stanley Johnson going to get a knighthood - and why has it led to accusations of cronyism?

What is cronyism?

Cronyism is the practice of awarding jobs and/or other advantages to friends or trusted colleagues. In essence, it is a form of favouritism.

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In politics, it typically involves someone appointing their ‘crony’ to a position of authority regardless of their qualifications, or putting them in a position which could confer a major financial benefit. It means cronyism is a polar opposite of meritocracy, in which appointments are made based on qualifications.

Stanley Johnson could be given a knighthood by his son, The Times has reported (image: AFP/Getty Images)Stanley Johnson could be given a knighthood by his son, The Times has reported (image: AFP/Getty Images)
Stanley Johnson could be given a knighthood by his son, The Times has reported (image: AFP/Getty Images) | AFP via Getty Images

Cronyism allegations have been laid at Boris Johnson’s door because he has sought to promote political allies, like Nadine Dorries, to the House of Lords despite questions about their suitability for a peerage. In Ms Dorries’ case, she has been involved in several misconduct scandals since becoming an MP in 2005.

In the instance of Stanley Johnson, Boris Johnson appears to have employed another form of cronyism - nepotism. This is the practice of favouring relatives for roles.

If his father is indeed included in his resignation honours list, it would not be the first time Johnson has given honours to family members. He made his younger brother Jo Johnson Baron Johnson of Marylebone in 2019.

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Speaking on his weekly LBC phone-in show, Keir Starmer said it would be "absolutely outrageous" if Mr Johnson has nominated his father for a 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.”

Sir Keir continued: "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?"

A spokesperson for Boris Johnson has said: "We don’t comment on honours."

Boris Johnson made his brother Jo, left, a peer in 2019 (image: AFP/Getty Images)Boris Johnson made his brother Jo, left, a peer in 2019 (image: AFP/Getty Images)
Boris Johnson made his brother Jo, left, a peer in 2019 (image: AFP/Getty Images) | AFP via Getty Images

Why is Stanley Johnson knighthood controversial?

As well as accusations of cronyism, the other issue being raised with Stanley Johnson’s potential knighthood is that he faces allegations about his behaviour towards women.

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In 2020, a biography about Boris Johnson by Tom Bower alleged Stanley Johnson broke his wife Charlotte’s nose and left her requiring hospital treatment in a 1970s domestic violence incident. Stanley Johnson denies the allegation.

Then, in 2021, two women came forward to accuse Johnson senior of inappropriate conduct. Former Conservative government minister Caroline Nokes accused him of forcefully smacking her on the backside and making derogatory comments at the 2003 Conservative Party Conference.

Meanwhile, Politico journalist Ailbhe Rea said Johnson senior had “groped” her at the 2019 Conservative Party Conference. Mr Johnson said he had “no recollection” of either incident.

Stanley Johnson faces allegations about his conduct towards women (image: Getty Images)Stanley Johnson faces allegations about his conduct towards women (image: Getty Images)
Stanley Johnson faces allegations about his conduct towards women (image: Getty Images) | Getty Images

Will Stanley Johnson get a knighthood?

Given the process of approving or rejecting the names on a Prime Minister’s resignation honours list is a clandestine operation, we do not know whether or not Stanley Johnson will get a knighthood.

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His son’s resignation honours list is facing more scrutiny than most that have gone before given he has named an unprecedented number of sitting MPs in it, as well as figures who face major question marks about their conduct in public life, such as Paul Dacre.

Johnson senior’s fate - if it hasn’t been decided already - will be in the hands of the Cabinet Office’s honours committee, which is made up of civil servants and has to have a majority of independent members. The politics-specific sub-committee of this group includes the government chief whip and opposition chief whip.

Stanley Johnson campaigned against his son during the 2016 Brexit referendum (image: AFP/Getty Images)Stanley Johnson campaigned against his son during the 2016 Brexit referendum (image: AFP/Getty Images)
Stanley Johnson campaigned against his son during the 2016 Brexit referendum (image: AFP/Getty Images) | AFP via Getty Images

Given Stanley Johnson’s political service - he was a member of the European Parliament (MEP) from 1979 to 1984, and campaigned for Remain in the Brexit referendum - there may be grounds on which the committee could give him a knighthood.

If the Cabinet Office has approved his nomination, it will currently be sitting with the Prime Minister’s office. If Rishi Sunak then approves the names that remain on Boris Johnson’s royal honours list, it will be sent to the King, who will hand out the honours.

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But given the animosity between Sunak and Johnson, as well as the political pressure stemming from the severity of the allegations concerning the ex-PM, the list could be scaled back or even blocked entirely. Rishi Sunak also pledged to govern with “integrity” when he became PM. These things may spell bad news for Stanley Johnson.

Those who have been nominated for peerages will go through a different committee called The House of Lords Appointments Commission. This committee can raise flags about potential peers, but the final call on whether they will be allowed to sit in the upper chamber sits with the Prime Minister of the day.

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