A billionaire City tycoon has donated £500,000 to the Conservative Party – just days after Boris Johnson made him a peer.
The Prime Minister overruled advice from the official Appointments Commission to put Peter Cruddas in the House of Lords after he failed its vetting process.
Now it has emerged Lord Cruddas – a long-time political donor – gave the Tories his largest ever cash contribution just days after being put in post.
Lord Cruddas’ term in the Lords was confirmed in December, began on January 27, according to Parliament, and he was formally introduced on February 2.
His whopping £500,000 was received by the Tory party on February 5 and accepted three days later.
The enormous donation – part of £6.3m which plunged into Tory coffers between January and March – could reignite a cronyism row which erupted when the PM handed Lord Cruddas a peerage.
Lord Cruddas, who founded CMC Markets, is a former Tory Treasurer who has given millions to the Conservatives, and also donated large sums to the Vote Leave campaign.
He and his wife are worth £1.3bn, according to the Sunday Times Rich List.
The House of Lords Appointments Commission said it was unable to support his nomination “after carrying out its vetting”.
But Boris Johnson overturned the advice and gave Lord Cruddas a seat in the Lords anyway – praising his “outstanding contributions in the charitable sector and in business”, and his “long track record of committed political service”.
Chair of the House of Lords Appointments Commission Paul Bew said it was the “first occasion” the body’s advice had not been followed.
It’s understood members pointed to court action which followed Lord Cruddas being filmed talking about donations in a Sunday Times newspaper sting in 2012 – when he was Tory Treasurer.
The Electoral Commission found in 2012 there was ‘no evidence’ any rules had been broken, and Lord Cruddas won £180,000 in damages from the Sunday Times in 2013 after he won a High Court claim for libel and malicious falsehood.
Those damages were however reduced to £50,000 when one part of the ruling was overturned by the Court of Appeal in 2015.
Three Appeal Court judges said the alleged meaning that “in return for cash donations to the Conservative Party, the Claimant [Lord Cruddas] corruptly offered for sale the opportunity to influence government policy and gain unfair advantage through secret meetings with the Prime Minister and other senior ministers” was “substantially true”.
While Lord Justice Jackson said Lord Cruddas “was not suggesting any form of criminal offence under the Bribery Act”, he wrote in the 2015 ruling: “On a proper reading of the transcript of a meeting on 15 March 2012, the following is clear.
“Mr Cruddas was effectively saying to the journalists that if they donated large sums to the Conservative Party, they would have an opportunity to influence Government policy and to gain unfair commercial advantage through confidential meetings with the Prime Minister and other senior ministers.
“That was unacceptable, inappropriate and wrong.”
In the transcript of the 2012 meeting, published by the Court of Appeal, Lord Cruddas told the undercover journalists a £250,000 donation would be “premier league” and in that case, “the first thing we wanna do is get you at the Cameron and Osborne dinners”.
The Conservative Party has a publicly-declared ‘Leader’s Group’, in which donors who give at least £50,000 attend private meals with the PM and senior ministers. The party insists it follows electoral law.
Boris Johnson was slammed after approving Lord Cruddas’ appointment in December.
In a letter, he confirmed the Commission had tried to block the appointment due to “historic concerns in respect of allegations made during Mr Cruddas’ term as Treasurer of the Conservative Party, and the judgement reached by the Court of Appeal in subsequent libel action”.
But the Prime Minister added at the time: “Firstly, the most serious accusations levelled at the time were found to be untrue and libellous.
“In order to avoid any ongoing concern, Mr Cruddas resigned from his post, and offered an apology for any impression of impropriety, and reflecting his particular concern for integrity in public life.
“An internal Conservative Party investigation subsequently found there had been no intentional wrongdoing on Mr Cruddas’ part.
“The events in question date back eight years, and the Commission has found no suggestion of any matters of concern before or since that time.”
Lord Cruddas and the Conservative Party have been contacted for comment.
Today’s figures show Labour received £2.5m in donations between January and March, while the Lib Dems received just under £1m.
Laurence Fox’s anti-lockdown Reclaim Party received more than £1.1m, all of it from Brexiteer tycoon Jeremy Hosking, while the largest single donation was £800,000 from English benefactor William Hampton to Sinn Fein.
A Conservative Party spokesperson said: “Donations to the Conservative Party are properly and transparently declared to the Electoral Commission and are published by them.
“Fundraising is a legitimate part of the democratic process: the alternative is more taxpayer-funding of political campaigning, which would mean less money for frontline services like schools, police and hospitals – or else, being in the pocket of union barons, like the Labour Party.”