Leave campaigners have accused David Cameron of abusing the honours system after awards were given to supporters of Britain’s EU membership.
Gisela Stuart, the Vote Leave chair, denounced the move as a “shabby stitch-up” and accused the prime minister of stooping to “a new low” in his drive to secure a remain vote in the 23 June referendum.
Remain campaigners have described Stuart’s language as “extraordinary” and point out that at least one prominent donor of the leave campaign has been given a knighthood.
The leave campaign said a total of 22 prominent remain supporters were named in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list, including Britain Stronger in Europe deputy chair Richard Reed, the founder of Innocent Drinks, who received a CBE.
Other awards went to financial donors to the remain campaign as well as people who put their names to a series of joint letters from businessmen, entrepreneurs, scientists, doctors and the creative industries backing continued EU membership.
The honoured individuals made up only a tiny fraction of the hundreds who signed the letters warning of the dangers of EU withdrawal.
Actor Brian Blessed, who signed the creative industries letter, received an OBE; financier Damon Buffini, who reportedly gave £10,000 to the remain campaign, was given a knighthood; and hedge fund partner John Armitage, who gave £15,000 to the remain campaign, was awarded a CBE.
Stuart, a Labour MP, said: “David Cameron and George Osborne have used every single ounce of their power to try to bully and frighten the British people into backing their campaign to keep us in the EU.
“But abusing our honours system to reward campaign cronies and donors is a new low. People in this country are sick of the establishment doing these shabby stitch-ups and will view this as bordering on the corrupt. I think the British people are sick and tired of it and I am astonished that the Labour party are happy to be associated with this conduct.
She continued: “Enough is enough. This clique of over-privileged and out of touch men need to wake up to the change that is happening across the country. The British people simply aren’t going to tolerate being told what to do any more by Brussels, by Cameron, or by his newly-honoured accomplices.”
The honours list included three out of the 198 business leaders who signed a pro-remain letter to the Times in February, including Weir Group chief executive Keith Cochrane (CBE), Ocado CEO Tim Steiner (OBE) and Love Home Swap founder Deborah Wosskow (MBE).
An OBE went to Trevor Garlick, the regional president of BP, whose CEO Bob Dudley signed the business letter.
Along with Blessed, awards went to a further three out of the 282 signatories of a pro-EU letter from the creative industries in May – Punchdrunk artistic director Felix Barrett (MBE), artist Michael Craig-Martin (knighthood) and theatre producer Sonia Friedman (OBE).
Six of the 60 signatories to a remain-backing letter from entrepreneurs were given awards, with an OBE going to Zoopla co-founder Alex Chesterman, MBEs to the co-founders of Entrepreneur First, Alice Bentinck and Matthew Clifford, an OBE to LoveFilm founder Saul Klein and an MBE to Hassle.com CEO Alexandra Depledge.
Harriet Fear, CEO of One Nucleus, who was one of 92 scientists to sign an open letter warning of the risks of Brexit, was given an MBE, while one of around 200 signatories of a health professionals’ letter in April – Dr Ingrid Wolfe – received an OBE.
Vote Leave also highlighted the award of a CBE to Simon Blagden, UK chairman of Fujitsu and an MBE to Morna Cook of Universal Music, whose companies have voiced support for the UK remaining in the EU, as well as MBEs for Blue Skies chairman Anthony Pile, who has expressed personal backing for remain, and James Watt, co-founder of BrewDog, another of whose co-founders has questioned the need for a referendum.
Remain say that at least one of the leave campaign’s most prominent backers has also received an honour.
Paul Marshall, a close associate of Michael Gove who has reportedly given a six-figure donation to the leave campaign, was given a knighthood.
One remain supporter said: “Stuart’s statement is over the top and out of order.”
A Downing Street source said the claims of favouritism by No 10 were “desperate” and pointed out that names for the list were selected by independent committees in February, before many of those honoured had declared they were supporters of remaining in the EU.
The honours list includes pro-Brexit MPs Desmond Swayne and Jeffrey Donaldson and hedge fund manager Paul Marshall who have been knighted, the source said.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010