A knighthood granted to a Tory Eurosceptic has triggered a row over allegations of cronyism - and an extraordinary letter from a fellow Brexiteer.
Sir John Hayes was given the honour in a surprise move on Friday, leading to criticism from political opponents and Tory Brexiteers who view it as an attempt by Theresa May to buy the support of a potential rebel.
In a colourfully-worded letter to Sir John, Tory MP Mark Francois – the Brexiteer who has called for a confidence vote in Mrs May – suggested that his coat of arms should be an “utter c**k rampant on one side and a big chicken on the other”.
He also claimed that Sir John could write down his political principles “on the back of an old postage stamp”.
The letter, obtained by LBC, said: “It is encouraging to note that, even now, after all these years in Parliament, you have not succumbed to the cynicism which sometimes affects colleagues and that, to this day, you still maintain an irreducible core of passionate political principles, which I understand you now keep jotted down on the back of an old postage stamp, as an ideological aide memoire.
“I should mention in passing, and just between us, that some colleagues are unkindly suggesting that this award is a sign, for those who understand these things, of absolute desperation by a Government which has effectively abandoned Brexit and now clearly lost the support of the DUP and many of its own backbenchers, to the extent that it is now reduced to handing out knighthoods to malleable colleagues, in a doomed attempt to stave off an almost certain defeat on the meaningful vote prior to Christmas.
“However, do not be alarmed John, your colleagues have known you for many years and we know you are made of sterner stuff than that! All that quoting Plato, Socrates and Cicero in the Chamber down the years was for a higher purpose after all.”
He added: “It’s entirely up to you but could I cheekily suggest a crest with an utter c**k rampant on one side and a big chicken on the other.
“As you have spent your entire career as a staunch Eurosceptic, I cannot adequately put into words, really I can’t John, how much I think of what you have done for your country – and I am sure that many of your colleagues now feel absolutely the same.”
Mr Francois confirmed the letter was genuine and told the Press Association: “I can’t speak for every MP but normally when a colleague is knighted, on the Conservative MPs’ own internal WhatsApp group you get lots and lots of other colleagues say ‘well done mate, great news’.
“When Gerald Howarth was knighted or when John Randall was knighted there were tons and tons of messages of congratulations. I haven’t seen one single colleague come up and say ‘well done Sir John’.”
Labour MP Jo Stevens, a supporter of the pro-EU Best for Britain, said: “This stinks of cronyism. It seems that in order to pass it’s unpopular Brexit deal, the Government is willing to hand out knighthoods left, right and centre.”
Shadow cabinet office minister Chris Matheson said: “It would be a spectacular act of desperation for Theresa May to be giving away knighthoods in a bid to win votes for her botched Brexit deal.”
Sir John served in a series of ministerial roles from 2010 to January 2018 when he left his job at the Department for Transport as part of a reshuffle by Mrs May.
He was a security minister in the Home Office from May 2015 to June 2016 while Mrs May was home secretary.
Sir John has been MP for his Lincolnshire constituency South Holland and the Deepings since 1997.