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Exclusive: Priti Patel tipped for House of Lords seat

Key Boris Johnson ally, twice accused of breaking Ministerial Code, could be named in ex-PM’s resignation honours

Seth Thévoz close-up
Seth Thévoz
13 October 2022, 9.43am
Former home secretary Priti Patel could be nominated for a seat in the House of Lords
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Priti Patel is being tipped for a seat in the House of Lords, openDemocracy has learnt.

The controversial former home secretary’s name has come up in formal discussions about Boris Johnson’s ‘resignation honours’ list, which is distinct from the already-leaked political honours list the former prime minister is expected to nominate.

Last week, the Daily Telegraph reported the names of 25 new peers who are expected to be created, with the 15 Conservatives including Tory donor Michael Hintze and Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre.

But those names were from a separate list of peerages put together by Johnson in May, long before he was forced out of Downing Street. Johnson has now submitted his own new list after stepping down last month – and this includes Patel.

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Outgoing prime ministers are usually granted a resignation honours list to reward allies. These lists have often been controversial, due to the high number of “cronies” and party donors they include.

Theresa May’s resignation honours in 2019 gave peerages to major Conservative donors including Zameer Choudrey, Rami Ranger and David Brownlow, the latter of whom went on to be at the centre of Boris Johnson’s “wallpapergate” scandal.

David Cameron’s 2016 resignation honours included a peerage for major Tory donor Andrew Fraser. Both lists also gave honours to a long list of close friends and supporters.

A leaked memo in July, from the company of longtime Johnson ally Lynton Crosby, suggested there were plans to pack the House of Lords with at least 40 new Tory peers, giving the Tories a majority in the upper chamber; and that the appointment of controversial figures like Paul Dacre was intended to distract media coverage from this.

Former PM Gordon Brown condemned the plan as riding “roughshod over every convention and standard of propriety”, and suggested it “also legitimises straightforward bribery”.

Vetting

For Patel to have any nomination confirmed, she would need to face vetting from the House of Lords Appointments Commission.

This is by no means guaranteed – the commission has attempted to block no fewer than 26 peerages in the past.

The news emerges as Lord Bew, chair of the commission, has written to the prime minister today to complain about a growing number of “unsuitable” nominations for peerages, which he says have put the commission in an “increasingly uncomfortable” position.

The commission is likely to consider the two occasions on which Patel was alleged to have breached the ministerial code.

The first came in 2017: Patel, then the international development secretary, visited Israel and held a string of private meetings with the Israeli government without informing what was then the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).

Patel commented at the time that “Boris knew about the visit”, although a government statement later clarified: “The FCO were aware of the visit while it was underway, but were not informed about it in advance.” Patel was then sacked by Theresa May, after “further details have come to light”, about additional undisclosed meetings she held with the Israeli government.

The second alleged breach came in 2020, after the resignation of Philip Rutnam, Patel’s top civil servant at the Home Office.

Rutnam claimed he had been bullied by Patel – a finding supported by a Cabinet Office inquiry, which concluded: “Her behaviour has been in breach of the ministerial code.” However, Johnson refused to sack Patel over the report, and Johnson’s own ethics adviser Alex Allan quit in protest.

Patel ended up staying in post for the rest of Johnson’s premiership. She stepped down from the cabinet last month when Liz Truss became prime minister.

Even if the House of Lords Appointments Commission opposes a nomination, it can still go through – in December 2020, Johnson became the first prime minister in history to overrule the commission, giving a peerage to major Tory donor Peter Cruddas. If Patel did get a seat in the Lords, she would be required to give up her Witham seat, though she could delay this by not taking up the peerage immediately.

Patel’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

A spokesperson for Downing Street declined to comment “as it relates to peerage speculation”.

A spokesperson for the House of Lords Appointments Commission said: “The commission will not comment on individuals. The commission’s role is to vet for propriety and provide confidential advice to the prime minister. We aim to be as transparent as possible about the process and our criteria.”

The Conservative Party has not responded to a request for comment.

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