British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing fresh accusations of cronyism after he appointed a long-time donor to his Conservative party as a life peer, despite concerns from watchdogs and senior UK officials.
On Tuesday, Mr Johnson appointed 16 new peers to the House of Lords, the upper chamber of UK parliament.
Among them was banker Peter Cruddas, who is worth a reported £860 million ($1.14 billion) and is a long-time Conservative donor who has given the party more than £3.5m.
The Appointments Commission advised against appointing Mr Cruddas, known as ‘the City of London’s richest man’.
In a letter to commission chairman Lord Bew, Mr Johnson rejected the concerns raised about the banker.
They relate to allegations he offered access to former prime minister David Cameron in exchange for donations of more than £200,000.
Lord Speaker Norman Fowler expressed his concerns about the move on Twitter on Tuesday.
"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," he said.
"I will not comment on the personalities involved, although perhaps I could personally welcome @JohnSentamu. But my concern remains that the central defect is the present system of appointments.
"Unlike other senates in democratic countries, there is no limit on the number of members there can be. Any prime minister can appoint as many as he or she likes. To her great credit the previous prime minister @theresa_may committed her govt to a policy of 'moderation.
"In a massive U-turn, those words seem to have been forgotten. It may also now be the time to review the role and the powers of the House of Lords Appointments Commission.
"To add insult to injury, for the second time the announcement of new peers has been made when Parliament is not sitting," he said.
"Sometimes the Lords itself is blamed for a failure to change. My answer to that is don't blame the Lords, blame successive governments who have avoided the subject."
Mr Johnson defended his nomination of Mr Cruddas. He said: “The most serious accusations levelled at the time were found to be untrue and libellous.” An internal Conservative Party investigation found there had been no intentional wrongdoing, according to the premier.
“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 £16m to good causes through over 200 charities and he is a long-standing supporter of both the Prince’s Trust and the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.”
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.”
Mr Johnson also appointed QC David Wolfson, who has publicly backed the prime minister’s stance on controversial legislation, as a life peer and junior justice minister.
The other nominations for peerages from Mr Johnson were: Sir Richard Benyon, former junior environment minister; Daniel Hannan, ex-MEP; Dame Jacqueline Foster, ex-MEP; Stephanie Fraser, chief executive of Cerebral Palsy Scotland; Dean Godson, director of Policy Exchange; and Syed Kamall, ex-MEP.
The nominations from Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer were: Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake; ex-MP Jennifer Chapman; former schools minister Vernon Coaker; former MEP Wajid Khan; and chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and former health minister Gillian Merron.
Nominations for crossbench peerages were: former Master of the Rolls Sir Terence Etherton; ex-head of the diplomatic service Sir Simon McDonald; former MI5 head Sir Andrew Parker; and the ex-Archbishop of York John Sentamu.