Shadow chancellor says retail billionaire should be punished if he refuses to be grilled by Commons committee next week
John McDonnell has joined calls for former BHS boss Sir Philip Green to be stripped of his knighthood if he refuses to be grilled by MPs next week.
The shadow chancellor has added his voice to the mounting antipathy in Westminster towards the retail billionaire, claiming that abolishing Green’s knighthood would be one way to “help restore public faith in the honours system”.
Green has been asked by MP Frank Field to appear before the work and pensions committee this Wednesday as part of its inquiry into the collapse of BHS, which has led to the loss of around 11,000 jobs. Rather than accept the committee’s request, Green’s response has been to demand Field resigns as chairman of the committee. He has previously stated that he was “not prepared to participate”.
McDonnell, writing in the Observer on Sunday, says that such a snub is an affront to the electorate as well as parliament and that the Arcadia chief, who has been repeatedly blamed for the collapse of the department store, should be suitably punished. “This week, we may witness Philip Green (I refuse to use his title) justify his actions at BHS,” he says. “The fact he feels he can threaten to subvert parliament is an insult to the British public. If he refuses to come before parliament, Green should be stripped of his knighthood.”
McDonnell adds: “Parliament should have the right to strip honours from individuals, in my view. This would remove the secret committee network and help restore public faith in the honours system.”
The shadow chancellor goes on to maul Green’s business decisions while at the helm of BHS over 15 years, referring to how he removed large sums from the company while leaving the pension fund in deficit before finally selling the company to Dominic Chappell, a three-time bankrupt. Last week Field’s committee heard Chappell described as a “mythomaniac” and a “Premier League liar”.
McDonnell states: “It was another act of vandalism that makes a mockery of those in business who are doing the right thing. And – even worse – employees of BHS will be paying for this with their pensions.”
However, Green appears unmoved by the fury, claiming Field is biased and orchestrated a “trial by media” designed to “destroy my reputation”.
The 64-year-old retailer has also alleged that the outcome of the inquiry was “pre-determined”. In turn, Field appears insistent on ensuring Green appears before his committee, stating: “The House of Commons decides who chairs these committees, not Sir Philip Green. It’s in his interest to turn up.”
The committee chair has considerable support from peers, with SNP MP Angus MacNeil tweeting:
Administrators announced last week that the business would be wound down and all 163 shops closed and sold off after it failed to find a buyer for the bankrupt department store. It brought to an end an 88-year trading history after intensive efforts to save the business came to nothing.
The Insolvency Service has launched an inquiry that could result in former BHS bosses facing boardroom bans.
The Pensions Regulator is also investigating the £571m pensions black hole left by BHS and will publish its findings. Field has also indicated he wants Green to put £600m into the retailer’s beleaguered pension scheme.
A group of Conservative MPs are reportedly already planning to write to the honours forfeiture committee, which must then formally evaluate the tycoon’s knighthood before advising the Queen on what action to take.