Hague's nomination for Ashcroft peerage is 'rejected a second time'

The Tory Party reacted angrily last night to reports that its treasurer, Michael Ashcroft, had been turned down for a second time for a peerage.

Mr Ashcroft's name was said to have been put forward by William Hague, but rejected by the cross-party Honours Scrutiny Committee.

The Independent revealed last year that the businessman had his previous nomination blocked by the committee.The committee never comments on rejected nominations, but it is widely thought the key factor counting against Mr Ashcroft, a billionaire, was that he was a tax exile who divided his time between Britain, Belize and Boca Raton in Florida. Mr Ashcroft has stated he intends to make Britain his principal residence and his office says he is reorganising his affairs to return to this country.

However, it is understood that Mr Ashcroft was vetoed for a peerage a second time because the vetting panel decided his circumstances had not changed sufficiently. The new list of working peers is expected to be published next Friday.

The second rejection of Mr Ashcroft would represent a body blow to Mr Hague's attempts to end the controversies over their treasurer.

Mr Ashcroft launched a libel action last year against The Times newspaper , but it was settled when the newspaper withdrew claims relating to money laundering and drugs allegations. At the same time, Mr Ashcroft pledged to return to the UK because he recognised the public concern about foreign funding of British politics.

Mr Ashcroft has given more than £1 million a year to the party since the last election and has loaned it up to £2 million.

Last night, Conservative Central Office refused to confirm or deny reports of his rejection for a second time. Downing Street also declined to comment.

Peter Bradley, Labour MP for The Wrekin, said: "If this is true, it shows just how desperate William Hague is to discharge his debts to Michael Ashcroft. The question is, is this any way to run a serious political party?" One of Mr Ashcroft's predecessors, Lord McAlpine of West Green, said last night that it would be "outrageous and wrong" for him to receive a peerage.

The Independent was unable to contact Mr Ashcroft for comment last night.

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