British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Monday became embroiled in a public war of words with Boris Johnson, in a spat over the former leader’s controversial awards to his key political allies.
Johnson’s long-awaited political honours list was published on Friday, rewarding Brexit die-hards and even those implicated in the “Partygate” scandal that contributed to his downfall last year.
But its failure to feature several expected names prompted accusations from Johnson’s camp of meddling from Sunak and Downing Street before it was submitted.
Sunak’s spokesman told reporters it was “entirely untrue” that the prime minister or officials removed names from Johnson’s list before it was sent to a House of Lords vetting committee.
The prime minister himself then lashed out at Johnson, accusing him of asking him to overrule the committee, which rejected eight of his nominations to the unelected upper chamber of parliament.
“Boris Johnson asked me to do something that I wasn’t prepared to do, because I didn’t think it was right,” he said at a tech conference in London.
“That was to either overrule the Holac committee (House of Lords Appointments Commission), or to make promises to people.
“I wasn’t prepared to do that. As I said I didn’t think it was right, and if people don’t like that then tough.”
Johnson hit back in a statement, saying: “Rishi Sunak is talking rubbish.”
His resignation honours list — normally a convention waved through by a prime minister’s successor — has sparked fresh factional in-fighting in the ruling Conservative party.
Sunak has sought to reunite the party, which was riven by ideological disputes over Brexit until Johnson’s landslide 2019 general election win.
Political observers have interpreted the resignations as Johnson’s revenge on Sunak for forcing him out of office last July after “Partygate” and a string of other scandals.
Two Johnson allies who were not rewarded — his loyal former culture secretary Nadine Dorries and fellow Conservative MP Nigel Adams — both resigned as MPs.
Johnson also resigned, claiming a stitch-up by political opponents on a cross-party inquiry probing whether he lied to parliament over the Covid lockdown-breaking parties at Downing Street.
The resignations mean Sunak’s Tories have to contest three by-elections when they trail in the polls to the main opposition Labour party, and with a general election looming next year.
In his 1,000-word resignation letter on Friday, Johnson criticised Sunak for abandoning the party’s position on issues from Brexit to taxation.