RISHI Sunak is reportedly considering a move to block Boris Johnson’s attempt to hand seats in the Lords to close allies such as Nadine Dorries and Alister Jack.

It comes after the disgraced former prime minister looked to name four sitting Conservative MPs on his resignation honours list: Scottish Secretary Jack, former culture secretary Dorries, COP26 president Alok Sharma, and former cabinet minister Nigel Adams.

The move has sparked controversy in Whitehall as MPs cannot also sit in the House of Lords. In order to accept their peerages, the four Tories would need to resign their seats in the Commons, triggering by-elections.

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The Guardian reported in July that Johnson’s team was aware of the issues that such nominations would bring.

A source told the paper in the summer: “You can’t announce a peerage and say they won’t kick in for two years [after the next General Election]. Elevating MPs will mean those seats will be freed up to be contested. It will be a very early test for the new leader.”

However, Johnson is said to have asked the MPs nominated for peerages to delay taking them up so the Tories do not have to fight by-elections.

But Lucy Neville-Rolfe (below), a Conservative peer and minister in the Cabinet Office, suggested in the Lords that any precedent for such delays may not be relevant enough to allow Johnson’s plans to go through.

The National: Baroness Lucy Neville-Rolfe is the new chairman of Assured Food Standards, which runs the Red Tractor scheme. Picture: ANDY WILSON

Asked if the UK Government had “any plans to recommend the conferring of deferred peerages on sitting Members of Parliament”, Neville-Rolfe was non-committal.

She said: “It is a common-law principle that members of the House of Lords cannot sit as MPs and, as such, would need to stand down from the House of Commons. The government are aware that there is some precedent for individuals delaying taking up their seats, but this is limited and largely related to their personal circumstances.”

Neville-Rolfe pointed specifically to Ruth Davidson, the former Scottish Tory leader who was given a life peerage by Johnson in July 2020. However, Davidson deferred joining the Lords until the summer of 2021.

The minister added: “The point I was making right at the beginning, which I will reiterate, is that the government are aware that there are some precedents for individuals delaying taking up their seats. However, this is limited and related, as in this case, to particular circumstances.”

There is no constitutional precedent for deferring a peerage so that MPs can take a seat in the Lords at a later date. To do so, Sunak would need to ask the monarch for special dispensation.

However, Neville-Rolfe suggested in another Lords debate that the Prime Minister had an obligation to avoid bringing the King into party politics.

“[Sunak] has constitutional responsibilities in relation to recommendations made to the sovereign – in particular, to ensure that the sovereign is not himself drawn into controversy,” she said.

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The Times reported that the suggestion behind Neville-Rolfe’s statements was that the government could block Johnson’s nominations, although Downing Street declined to comment.

Sunak is stuck between constitutional precedents, which say both that he should approve Johnson’s resignation honours nominations, and decline to allow the deferral of peerages – or ask the King to do so.

The House of Lords Appointment Commission is said to be vetting Johnson’s peerage nominations, which also include Ross Kempsell, a close friend of his wife Carrie. However, Sunak will have the final say over peerages, with the commission’s role being advisory.