Boris Johnson’s peerage to disgraced donor who gave the Conservatives £500,000 after the PM forced through his nomination, faces legal challenge

  • EXCLUSIVE: Boris Johnson’s nomination of disgraced Tory donor Peter Cruddas to the House of Lords faces a legal challenge.
  • The Good Law Project is challenging Johnson’s decision, saying it was unlawful.
  • Cruddas gave £500,000 to the Conservatives just days after Johnson overruled official advice not to do so.
  • “Handing out peerages to Party donors who couldn’t even pass the vetting process makes a mockery of our democracy,” the Good Law Project’s Jolyon Maugham tells Insider.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Boris Johnson’s decision to overrule a move to block his nomination of a disgraced Conservative Party donor to the House of Lords faces a legal challenge, Insider can reveal.

Johnson forced through the nomination of Peter Cruddas, who resigned as Conservative co-treasurer in 2012 after offering undercover reporters access to then Prime Minister David Cameron, despite objections from the House of Lords Appointments Commission (HoLAC).

Cruddas then handed Johnson’s party a further £500,000 just days after Johnson forced through his peerage.

Now that decision is being challenged by the Good Law Project, who have instructed the solicitors Bindmans to send a letter before claim as part of a proposal for a judicial review of Johnson’s decision to nominate Cruddas to the peerage.

Jo Maugham, a barrister and director of the Good Law Project, told Insider: “Despite the House of Lords Appointments Commission advising against it, Boris Johnson made Peter Cruddas a Lord. Just days later, Peter Cruddas donated half a million pounds to the Conservative Party. He threw his money around and now gets to shape laws that affect all of our lives.

“Handing out peerages to Party donors who couldn’t even pass the vetting process makes a mockery of our democracy. We can’t allow it to continue.”

In their letter, seen by Insider, the Good Law Project say that the nomination “was unlawful because of apparent bias. A fair-minded and informed observer, presented with the facts of the matter, would conclude that there was a real possibility or danger of bias in the Defendant’s decision making.

“Of particular significance in this regard is the timing of major donations by Peter Cruddas. In particular, in January 2020, one month before it became public knowledge that he was to be nominated, he made a £250,000 donation. Three days after he became a peer, he made a further £500,000 donation, the single largest donation he has made to date.”

Johnson accused of unlawfully rewarding disgraced peer

Boris Johnson

Prime Minister Boris Johnson

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The Good Law Project, which has won a series of victories against the government in recent months, says that when vetting nominees, HoLAC takes into consideration “the credibility of individuals who have made significant political donations, loans or credit arrangements”.

They say the “obvious inference is that the past donations and the prospects of future donations were taken into account when [the Prime Minister] decided to grant the peerage. A decision taken in whole or in part on the basis of such a consideration is unlawful.”

Should the case go ahead, the Good Law Project “will be seeking a declaration that the decision to nominate Peter Cruddas for a peerage was unlawful.”

They will be seeking Johnson to recognize this, and then to “undertake to consider what steps should flow from that confirmation”.

Rather than challenging Johnson’s exercise of the prerogative power to grant honours, the Good Law Project say they are seeking a judicial review of his use of a power under the Life Peerages Act 1958. 

Prerogative powers have recently been the subject of judicial review, including a case against Johnson’s government and his advice in 2019 to the Queen which led to the prorogation of Parliament, which was found by the UK Supreme Court to be “null and of no effect” – as if it had never happened.

The man winning legal victories against the UK government

Jolyon Maugham

Jo Maugham QC

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Maugham and the Good Law Project have become a “target” for government ministers, due to their string of successful legal challenges against the UK government, the Mail on Sunday reported.

On Wednesday, legal action brought by the Good Law Project against senior Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove led to the High Court ruling Gove acted unlawfully in handing a £560,000 contract to the firm Public First for market research.

The High Court said there was “apparent bias” in the decision by the Cabinet Office.

Public First’s owners had both worked with Gove and Dominic Cummings, a former senior aide to both Johnson and Gove.

The advice of HoLAC has not been published, but some of their objections to Cruddas’s nominations are apparent in the letter sent by Johnson to the chair of HoLAC, Lord Bew, when he explained why he was overruling their advice and nominating Cruddas to the peerage.

While co-treasurer of the Conservative Party in March 2012, the Sunday Times published an investigation carried out by undercover reporters alleging that Cruddas had offered them access to then Prime Minister David Cameron in return for £250,000 of donations. 

Cruddas resigned as co-treasurer in the wake of the story, and would go on to sue the paper successfully for libel, winning £180,000 in damages. 

However, the Sunday Times appealed, with damages being reduced to £50,000, and the judges finding that the central allegation of selling access to Cameron and other politicians was accurate. The judges said Cruddas’s actions were “unacceptable, inappropriate and wrong”.

In his letter to Lord Bew, Johnson described these concerns as “historic” and stated that “an internal Conservative Party investigation subsequently found that there had been no intentional wrongdoing on Mr Cruddas’ part”.

A spokesperson for the prime minister said: “All individuals are nominated in recognition of their contribution to society and their public and political service.

“Lord Cruddas has a broad range of experiences and insights across the charitable, business and political sectors which allow him to make a hugely valuable contribution to the work of the Lords.”

A spokesperson for Lord Cruddas was contacted for comment.

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