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UK’s Sunak faces down critics after Boris Johnson honours row

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By Sachin Ravikumar

LONDON (Reuters) -British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on Monday he had rejected a plea from Boris Johnson to overrule an independent body and allow some of the former leader’s allies to join parliament’s upper chamber because he didn’t think it was right.

Responding to critics within his ruling Conservative Party, which has been rocked in recent days by Johnson’s dramatic Friday night decision to quit parliament, Sunak added that he had no sympathy for those who did not like his decision.

Former prime ministers such as Johnson are entitled to bestow honours, including a lifetime seat in parliament’s House of Lords, after they step down and it is not uncommon for British leaders to use their list to reward political allies.

But some of Johnson’s nominees were not included in a final list published on Friday after they failed to receive backing from the body that vets such appointments.

“Boris Johnson asked me to do something that I wasn’t prepared to do, because I didn’t think it was right,” Sunak said in his first public comments on the events of the last few days.

“That was to either overrule the HOLAC committee (House of Lords Appointments Commission) or to make promises with people,” Sunak said, responding to a media question on whether he had intervened in the process.

Sunak has the power to overrule HOLAC’s advice, but said he chose not to.

“If people don’t like that, then tough,” he said.

As prime minister, Johnson had himself overruled HOLAC when appointing a Conservative Party donor in 2020.

Despite being forced from power last year by a party revolt over his conduct, Johnson commands a loyal core of supporters in the Conservatives who regard him as a powerful vote-winner in parts of the country others, like Sunak, cannot reach.

Sunak, who served as finance minister under Johnson before playing a pivotal role in his downfall, has struggled to unify the party behind him ahead of a national election expected next year.

Johnson resigned from parliament on Friday in a protest against lawmakers investigating whether he misled parliament over illegal parties during COVID lockdowns at his Downing Street office when he was prime minister.

That coincided with the publication of his honours list, which itself triggered two other resignations, leaving Sunak battling to present a united party and facing difficult elections to replace all three.

(Reporting by Sachin Ravikumar and Alistair Smout; Writing by William James; Editing by Kylie MacLellan and Alex Richardson)

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