Honour at last for peer of the off-shore realm

Conservative treasurer celebrates his appointment while six former hereditaries are 'brought back from the dead' by Labour
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Indy Politics

When Michael Ashcroft donned a cap and gown to collect an honorary doctorate from Anglia Polytechnic University last October, he might have suspected the honour was the last he would get.

The Tory treasurer's nomination for a peerage had been rejected a few months earlier by the House of Lords' Honours Scrutiny Committee. He had been criticised by Labour MPs for his links with Belize and had attempted to sue The Times newspaper over the suggestion - since refuted - that he was linked with criminal activity.

But last night the billionaire businessman was celebrating the news that his name was on a new list of working peers.

The appointment was bound to prove controversial, not least because Mr Ashcroft had many other interests to attend to.

He resigned as Belize's Ambassador to the United Nations on Wednesday, but Tory sources admitted it would be months before he fulfilled a promise to move his main home from Florida to the UK.

With major business interests in Europe, the US and Belize, Mr Ashcroft is known to spend much of his time over the Atlantic. He is registered to vote in Maidenhead, Berkshire, but has houses in Westminster and in Boca Raton, Florida, as well as a base in Belize and a sizeable yacht, the Atlantic Goose.

Mr Ashcroft has a reputation for being one of the business world's more bucaneering characters, with complex take-over bids and his jet-setting lifestyle. One bruised financier who lost out to him on a deal described him as "a deal junkie" who was "clever and sharp in the best sense of the word".

In the City those traits have long been regarded with suspicion, and were said to have led him to move his business, ADT, to Bermuda in the mid-1980s. He sold the company in 1997 to an American firm, Tyco, but still holds shares in it.

Mr Ashcroft's friends have dismissed the sniping about him as mere snobbery, born of his grammar school background and his penchant for deals that few other people can understand. But though they say he cares little for what others think of him, it was clear last night that he had dearly wanted a peerage.

In return for the honour, he resigned his Belize post and gave an assurance to the Honours Scrutiny Committee that he would move back to Britain before taking up his seat.

Although Mr Ashcroft has lived abroad for 15 years, he has remained involved with a number of charitable organisations in Britain, detailed in a biography released yesterday.

Mr Ashcroft founded two major charities, Crimestoppers and Action on Addiction, and remains a major funder and trustee of both. He also funds the ADT City Technology College in Wandsworth and two other schools, one in Belize and the other in the Turks and Caicos islands.

Back at the businessman's alma mater, Anglia Polytechnic University, senior staff remained coy about whether last year's doctorate would be rewarded with a large cheque. However, Mr Ashcroft's office said it was safe to assume there would soon be an announcement on the endowment of a new business school.

The entrepreneur completed an HND in business studies at the Chelmsford wing of the university in 1964, when it was known as Mid-Essex Tech. He phoned its alumni officer last year while revisiting old haunts in the area and has since funded a development study for the business school.

However, Mr Ashcroft's spokesman said last night that he had no plans to give up his Belize passport. Dual nationality would not stop him from sitting in the House of Lords. "Why would Baron Ashcroft of Belize want to give up his Belize passport?" asked the spokesman, before adding: "You misunderstand the man if you think that is a joke."