Boris Johnson is facing a cronyism row after he appointed a controversial ex-Tory treasurer as a life peer, overruling objections from an independent committee.
Banker Peter Cruddas, who is worth a reported £860million, is a long time Conservative donor who has given the party more than £3.5million.
The so-called ‘City of London’s richest man’ has now been appointed to the House of Lords by Mr Johnson, despite its Appointments Commission advising against the move.
In a letter to commission chairman Lord Bew, the Prime Minister rejected the ‘historic concerns’ raised about Mr Cruddas.
They relate to allegations he offered access to then prime minister David Cameron in exchange for donations of more than £200,000.
Peter Cruddas, who is worth a reported £860million and is a former Conservative treasurer, has been made a life peer
Mr Cruddas quit as treasurer in 2012 after nine months following an undercover newspaper investigation into the ‘cash for access’ claims.
He was apparently recorded offering access to figures such as Mr Cameron and George Osborne in return for ‘premier league’ donations.
The City tycoon denied wrongdoing and claimed his comments were just ‘bluster’.
He lost part of a libel action over the issue on appeal, although judges backed him over a separate allegation that he had countenanced breaches of electoral law surrounding foreign donors, and he ultimately won £50,000 damages on this point.
Explaining his decision, Mr Johnson said ‘the most serious accusations levelled at the time were found to be untrue and libellous’, and an internal Conservative Party investigation ‘found there had been no intentional wrongdoing’.
‘Mr Cruddas has made outstanding contributions in the charitable sector and in business, and has continued his long track record of committed political service,’ the Prime Minister said.
‘His charitable foundation, which supports disadvantaged young people, has pledged over £16 million to good causes through over 200 charities and he is a long-standing support of both the Princes Trust and the Duke of Edinburgh Award.’
Meanwhile, Lord Speaker Lord Fowler also voiced concerns about the number of peers appointed by the Prime Minister.
Defending the appointment, Mr Johnson said ‘the most serious accusations levelled at the time were found to be untrue and libellous’
He said: ‘Mr Johnson has added 16 to his list of appointments bringing the total for the year up to 52 new peers over two lists.
‘This list will bring the total in the House of Lords to over 830 – almost 200 more than the House of Commons.’
On the appointment of Mr Cruddas, a statement on the gov.uk website said: ‘The House of Lords Appointments Commission was invited by the Prime Minister to undertake vetting of all party political and cross-bench nominations.
‘The commission is an independent non-statutory body. It provides advice but appointments are a matter for the Prime Minister.
‘The commission has completed its vetting in respect of all nominees.
‘The commission advised the Prime Minister that it could not support one nominee – Peter Cruddas.
‘The Prime Minister has considered the commission’s advice and wider factors and concluded that, exceptionally, the nomination should proceed.’
Mr Johnson also appointed QC David Wolfson as a life peer and junior justice minister.
The Lord Speaker said he would not comment on those appointed – apart from to welcome former archbishop of York John Sentamu – but added: ‘It may also now be the time to review the role and the powers of the House of Lords Appointments Commission.’
Mr Cruddas was also a co-founder of the Vote Leave campaign, led by Mr Johnson and Michael Gove, and provided £1.5million.
Last year he backed Mr Johnson’s leadership, saying: ‘We need a Brexiteer as our next PM.’
Reacting to the appointment, Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said: ‘After months of revelations about the cronyism at the heart of this government, it’s somehow appropriate the Prime Minister has chosen to end the year with a peerage to Peter Cruddas.
‘It’s never been more clear: there is one rule for the Conservatives and their chums, another for the rest of the country.’