Cronyism row as Rishi Sunak hands knighthood to major Tory donor

Tory senior treasury Mohamed Mansour, who gave £5m to the party, has been awarded a knighthood

Joe Middleton,Archie Mitchell
Friday 29 March 2024 13:35 GMT
Mohamed Mansour: Rishi Sunak faces criticism after Tory donor given knighthood

Rishi Sunak has come under fire for handing a knighthood to a major Tory donor who gave £5m to the party last year.

The prime minister has been branded “self-indulgent” by Labour for awarding the honour to businessman Mohamed Mansour, who is a senior treasurer at the party and a former Egyptian government minister.

In an announcement slipped out before the bank holiday weekend, Mr Mansour was knighted for business, charity and political service, while four Conservative MPs were given honours.

Sources at No 10 pointed to Mr Mansour’s support for The Prince’s Foundation – now The King’s Foundation – and a major contributor to St Paul’s Cathedral’s Remember Me project, which raised money for a physical memorial to those who died of Covid-19 in the UK.

Rishi Sunak has come under fire for handing a knighthood to a Mohamed Mansour who gave £5m to the party last year (Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Former chancellor Nadim Zahawi accused Labour of hypocrisy, saying the party had also honoured donors and added they “may want to criticise the system but they should not attack the man”.

Mr Mansour was Egypt’s transport minister from 2006 to 2009 under Mubarak, the president who quit during the Arab Spring revolt of 2011. He has led the Mansour Group family business alongside his two brothers since the death of his father in 1976. It reports an annual revenue of $7.5bn.

Since 1997, the group has run the Africa and Middle East dealership of the Caterpiller Inc (CAT) construction equipment company. It does this through subsiduary companies Mantrac Group and Unatrac.

The businessman is also one of the biggest investors in football in the US, having studied in Raleigh, North Carolina, and owns Major League Soccer team San Diego FC. At one point, when his father’s cotton business in Egypt was nationalised by the Nasser government, the billionaire worked as a waiter, earning $1.25 an hour.

After receiving the honour, Mr Mansour is understood to have told a friend he owes “a great debt to Britain”. “I feel humbled to be given such an honour, I have made Britain my home and it has given me an enormous amount of what I love from its democratic freedoms and strong legal system to its belief in people prospering.”

Rishi Sunak has been accused of setting a ‘dangerous precedent’ by awarding the knighthood (EPA)

Labour Party chair Anneliese Dodds hit out at the prime minister for recommending the honour.

She said: “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.”

And Richard Tice, the leader of Nigel Farage’s right-wing Reform UK challenger party, said it stinks of “toxic Tory cronyism”. Mr Tice said: “The nation is sick of it. The whole thing stinks like rotting fish, from the head.”

But Mr Zahawi said: “It is pure hypocrisy and nonsense of Labour to criticise the knighthood for Mohamed Mansour. They too honour donors. Look what they do to suck up to unions who fund them. Mr Mansour should be honoured.

“Yes, he has chosen to give to the Tories. It is his choice to back a party that wants freedom for individuals and companies so the UK prospers. He has also chosen to make the UK his home.

“We are lucky to have him as one of the great entrepreneurs of the world. The Bank of America has just appointed him as an advisor, for goodness sake.

“He is an example of modern Britain. A Muslim role model and a lover of this country. I hope there is not a slither of racism in their criticism of his knighthood. They may want to criticise the system but they should not attack the man.”

Former chancellor Nadim Zahawi accused Labour of hypocrisy, saying the party had also honoured donors and added they “may want to criticise the system but they should not attack the man” (PA Wire)

The Conservatives have previously been accused of offering honours to wealthy donors as a “reward” for their support. A Sunday Times report in 2021 said backers ““appear to be guaranteed a peerage if they take on the temporary role as the party treasurer and increase their own donations beyond £3 million”.

And the last Labour government was also embroiled in a cash-for-peerages scandal, with Sir Tony Blair accused of elevating those who bankrolled the party to the Lords.

Ms Dodds on Friday said major Labour donors would not get an “automatic pass” to receiving honours if the party wins power. “We think it’s really important that we have a system that is beyond public questioning and reproach,” she told Sky News.

The timing of the announcement, while parliament is in recess and on the eve of the Easter bank holiday weekend, has also raised eyebrows – although sources said the timing of the honours was linked to the need to make appointments to the Privy Council, including the new first minister of Wales Vaughan Gething.

Other recipients of honours include Philip Davies – whose wife is the government’s “common sense” minister Esther McVey – who has been knighted for public and parliamentary service.

Former sports minister Tracey Crouch, who led a review of football governance in the wake of proposals for a breakaway European Super League, has been given a damehood for public and parliamentary service.

Farming minister Mark Spencer has also been given a knighthood, while Treasury select committee chair Harriett Baldwin becomes a dame.

Anneliese Dodds said the PM was ‘arrogant’ or simply ‘does not expect to be in post much longer’ (REUTERS)

Democratic Unionist Party MP Gregor Campbell has also been made a CBE.

The prime minister recommended the honours to the King.

Sir Philip, the MP for Shipley in West Yorkshire since 2005, said: “Obviously I’m absolutely delighted. I’m somewhat flabbergasted as well, to be honest. It feels very surreal and I’m somewhat in shock.”

He added: “I’m just immensely grateful to everybody who has enabled it to happen.”

Sir Philip has hosted a GB News show with wife Esther McVey until she gave up the presenting role to return to government as minister without portfolio in November last year.

In the enterainment world Oppenheimer director Christopher Nolan and his wife producer Emma Thomas will receive a knighthood and damehood for their services to film.

The news comes after Nolan’s biopic about the “father of the atomic bomb” swept the 2024 Oscars, winning him Best Director and Best Picture.

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