‘Farce’ of Johnson resignation honours sparks call for reform

The “farce” surrounding Boris Johnson’s resignation honours list brings into question whether former prime ministers should be able to hand out awards after leaving office, according to a former House of Lords speaker.

Baron Fowler of Sutton Coldfield said Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has “an opportunity to put all this right” by reforming the system whereby outgoing No 10 incumbents have the right to put forward an honours roll.

Mr Johnson quit as an MP only hours after his resignation honours list was published on Friday, with a host of aides and allies handed peerages and other gongs.

Lord Fowler, who was awarded a knighthood by Margaret Thatcher in 1990, said the way Mr Johnson’s honours list unfolded was an “extraordinary mess” and “brings into question” whether the process should be reformed.

In a 1,000-word Commons resignation statement, former Conservative leader Mr Johnson appeared to reveal that a Commons Privileges Committee had found he had misled MPs when he offered assurances that Covid rules were following in Downing Street despite boozy lockdown parties taking place during the pandemic.

Lord Fowler told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that, upon hearing that Mr Johnson’s honours roll was to be published, he assumed there had been “no problem” with the committee investigation when the “exact opposite” was the case.

“I think it just brings into question the whole business of prime ministers’ honours,” the former Tory Party chairman said.

“It has been a farce really from beginning to end. There has been leak after leak of the whole thing. It’s no way of running a Government.”

Service for a New Parliament
Former Lord speaker Baron Fowler has suggested that the resignation honours format be reformed (Jonathan Brady/PA)

The Tory-turned-cross-bencher said the practice of prime ministers giving honours was “perfectly sensible” but added the timing was important.

“There is a specific issue here, and that is the issue of honours being given at the end of a prime minister’s period of office,” said Lord Fowler, who was speaker in the Lords between 2016 and 2021.

“I think it brings into the whole question of whether that is necessary and whether that is an appropriate thing to do.

“I just don’t see what the argument now is for it.”

Mr Johnson resigned as prime minister and party leader on September 5.

Lord Fowler, a keen advocate for modernising the House of Lords, said there were “far too many” peers in the upper chamber.

Mr Johnson appointed seven in his honours list, with Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen and his former No 10 chief-of-staff Dan Rosenfield among those due to take up seats on the red benches.

Lord Fowler said there were now more than 800 peers and argued it was “absurd that we’ve gone on increasing and increasing the numbers”.

He said: “It should come down to 600 and you could make a very good case for putting it down to 500.”