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Sunak sparks honours row as party donor awarded knighthood

PM accused of ‘obscene cronyism’ after naming Mohamed Mansour, who gave Tories £5 million last year, in surprise Easter list

Honours are nominated by Rishi Sunak, and approved by the King. Pic: PA

Rishi Sunak has sparked an Easter honours row as he announced a knighthood for one of the Conservatives’ biggest donors.

On Thursday evening, the Prime Minister rewarded Mohamed Mansour, who gave £5 million to the party last year, in a surprise list that was released at 5.30pm before the Bank Holiday weekend.

It also included honours for four Tory MPs who have been loyal to Mr Sunak - including Philip Davies, the husband of cabinet minister Esther McVey.

The film director Christopher Nolan and his wife Emma Thomas, fresh from the success of Oppenheimer at the Oscars, are to be handed a knighthood and damehood - a move that critics said was an attempt to give the list a veneer of credibility.

Such an extensive announcement of honours outside of the traditional New Year and King’s Birthday lists in June is highly unusual and will fuel speculation about a summer snap election.

Downing Street sources have attempted to play down speculation that a June or July election could be on the cards, stressing that going to the ballot box in the autumn remains the aim. But the surprise honours list will be seen as an attempt to shore up support before an election.

Mr Sunak was also accused of blocking and delaying honours proposed by former prime ministers Boris Johnson and Liz Truss after they left office.

It comes at a time when Tory finances are under scrutiny after Frank Hester, its biggest donor, was embroiled in a scandal over “racist” remarks about Diane Abbott. Mr Sunak has faced calls not to accept any new donations from Mr Hester, having refused to return the £10 million he has already given to the Tories.

Director Christopher Nolan and producer wife Emma Thomas are to be handed a knighthood and damehood respectivelyCREDIT: Richard Harbaugh/A.M.P.A.S. via Getty Images

The honouring of Mr Mansour, an Egyptian-born billionaire, sparked immediate controversy.

Anneliese Dodds MP, the Labour Party chairman, said of Mr Sunak’s decision to announce the honours: “This is either the arrogant act of an entitled man who’s stopped caring what the public thinks or the demob-happy self-indulgence of someone who doesn’t expect to be Prime Minister much longer.

“Either way, it shows a blatant disrespect for the office he should feel privileged to hold.”

Richard Tice, the leader of Reform UK, said: “The nation is sick of the Tories and their obscene cronyism. Bung them a few million quid and a peerage or knighthood is yours. The whole thing stinks like a rotting fish, from the head.

“Amusingly, they have tried to disguise their tracks with various other soft or cultural types being honoured. We are not that stupid.”

Government sources insisted that Mr Sunak “loves film” and wanted to “capitalise on a really good” awards season by celebrating British cultural success.

A new honours list was needed to add Vaughan Gething, the new Welsh First Minister, to the Privy Council CREDIT: Matthew Horwood/Welsh Government

Mr Mansour gave £5million to the Conservatives last January, which at the time was the single largest donation the party had received in over 20 years. He was appointed a senior Treasurer of the Tories in December 2022.

A naturalised British citizen, he has also donated to many charitable causes including the King’s Foundation and a memorial for the victims of Covid.

His knighthood was awarded for services to “business, charity and political service”.

Mr Mansour has previously spoken about the Prime Minister in glowing terms and has said he “understands how growth is generated in the modern economy”.

He also served from 2006 to 2009 as a transport minister under Hosni Mubarak, the late Egyptian president who quit office during the 2011 Arab Spring.

Mubarak, who died in 2020, was considered an autocrat and was accused of maintaining his grip on office by cracking down on political opposition and stifling free speech.

Mr Sunak also knighted Mark Spencer, the farming minister, while Harriet Baldwin, chair of the Commons Treasury committee, and Tracey Crouch, a former sports minister, were made dames.

Mr Spencer was previously the Tory chief whip and was cleared of telling Nus Ghani, a Muslim minister, that she had been sacked because of her faith.

Mr Davies is a noted Sunak loyalist and has used his GB News show, which he co-presents with his wife, to defend the Prime Minister’s record in office.

The list was also peppered with honours for cultural figures. As well as Nolan and Thomas, Ted Sarandos, co-chief executive officer of streaming giant Netflix, has been made a CBE.

Mr Sunak has also honoured figures involved in the development of artificial intelligence, a subject in which he has taken a personal interest in No 10.

Matthew Clifford, who helped organise this year’s Bletchley Summit on AI, and Ian Hogarth, the chair of the Government’s AI taskforce, have been handed CBEs.

A new honours list had been needed to add Vaughan Gething, the new Welsh First Minister, and Stephen Flynn, the SNP leader in Westminster, to the Privy Council.

Government sources said Mr Sunak had seen the list as an opportunity to recognise British triumphs in the film awards season and the success of his AI summit.


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