Downing St denies blocking Branson honour

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The Independent Online
THE Prime Minister's office yesterday denied that it had blocked William Hague's nomination of Richard Branson for a knighthood.

A Downing Street spokesman said that while nominations came from a wide variety of sources, and No 10 would not normally comment on honours decisions, it was untrue to say that a knighthood for Mr Branson had been blocked. Tony Blair, it was said, had the greatest respect for Mr Branson, and to suggest, as a Sunday newspaper had done, that an honour had in any way been blackballed was "total and utter rubbish".

It appears that Mr Hague made at least three nominations for knighthoods soon after he was elected Conservative leader last year, and three have so far failed to score.

That does not mean, however, that Mr Branson, who was allegedly on the Hague list, will not be in the New Year's Honours, or, indeed, that he might not then get a life peerage.

It is also possible, though more remotely, that he is one of the two dozen people who refused to take a place in Saturday's list. But if that is not the case, and he was nominated and did not make it, he was in the company of about 9,000 others.

The two other names who are known to have been included in Mr Hague's nominations were Bernie Ecclestone, of Formula One and pounds 1m Labour donation fame, and an Australian, Ron Walker, who served for a time as the Conservative Party's successful foreign treasurer.

Mr Ecclestone's knighthood would have come to grief on the furore caused by his Labour donation and the link drawn between that cash gift and the Government's vacillation over tobacco sponsorship of Formula One racing.

Mr Walker's proposed knighthood was more curious, because Mr Hague's official spokesman denied all knowledge of him, adding for good measure that he had never served as a Conservative Party treasurer, even though his name was listed as such on official party fund-raisers' notepaper obtained by The Independent.