Geoffrey Boycott has said he “couldn’t give a toss” about criticism over Theresa May awarding him a knighthood in her resignation honours list. Domestic abuse charities and Labour said the honour should be removed from the ex-cricketer, who was convicted of beating his girlfriend in 1998. Boycott, who has always denied the assault, later questioned why the issue had been raised by the media.
Mrs May’s list of 57 names was made up of mostly political figures. Every departing prime minister can draw up a resignation honours list. Mrs May announced her resignation in June after failing to get support for the withdrawal agreement she had negotiated for the UK to leave the EU.
The former prime minister showed her love of cricket with knighthoods for Boycott and fellow former England captain Andrew Strauss. Boycott was fined £5,000 and given a three-month suspended sentence in 1998 after being convicted of beating his then-girlfriend Margaret Moore in a French Riviera hotel.
During the trial, the court heard Boycott pinned Miss Moore down and punched her 20 times in the face before checking out and leaving her to pay the bill. Boycott denied the allegations, saying Miss Moore had slipped after flying into a rage when he refused to marry her.
Mrs May, who introduced a landmark Domestic Abuse Bill to Parliament earlier this year, was accused of sending a “dangerous message” by Women’s Aid’s co-acting chief executive Adina Claire. She said the honour “should be taken away” from Boycott, adding that it sent “completely the wrong message” to survivors of domestic abuse.
Asked about the criticism from Women’s Aid by presenter Martha Kearney on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Boycott responded: “I don’t give a toss about her, love. It was 25 years ago so you can take your political nature and do whatever you want with it.”
The 78-year-old, who is part of the BBC’s cricket commentary team for the current Ashes series, added: “It’s very difficult to prove your innocence in another country, in another language. “I have to live with it – and I do. I’m clear in my mind, and I think most people in England are, that it’s not true.”
In a subsequent interview, Boycott said that the day had been “soured” by Radio 4 “setting me up”, saying the station’s agenda had been to talk about domestic violence and “make publicity”. He told BBC’s Look North Yorkshire: “Is that what interviewing is about – is it always to ask difficult questions? Shouldn’t it be just a nice day for me?
“I said I don’t give a toss about her [Ms Claire from Woman’s Aid], not domestic violence. That’s not something anyone should feel good about.” A spokesperson for the Today programme said the question was “entirely appropriate… given the concerns raised about Geoffrey Boycott’s knighthood by Women’s Aid and others”.
The shadow minister for women and equalities, Dawn Butler, joined the call for Boycott’s knighthood to be rescinded. “Honouring a perpetrator of domestic violence just because he is the former prime minister’s favourite sportsman shows how out of touch and nepotistic the honours list is,” she said, adding that the whole system needed “radically overhauling”. And former Spice Girl Melanie Brown tweeted that Boycott was “a disgrace to Yorkshire”, saying the “perpetrators of domestic abuse shouldn’t be held up as heroes EVER”.
The Woman’s Trust charity said it was “disappointed” to see Boycott included in the honour’s list because it either suggested that, despite his conviction, he was believed over the survivor, or his fame meant it did not matter.Skip Twitter post by @womanstrust
Boycott also had to apologise in 2017 after joking that he would have to “black up” to be given a knighthood, reportedly saying they were handed out to West Indian cricketers “like confetti”.
Mrs May once compared her determination to delivering Brexit with the fighting spirit in Boycott’s batting marathons. Telling journalists he was one of her sporting heroes, she said in November 2018: “Geoffrey Boycott stuck to it and he got the runs in the end.” Since his retirement from cricket, Boycott has gone on to become a successful broadcaster and is part of the BBC’s cricket commentary team.
A BBC spokesperson said: “He is a world renowned cricketer and employed for his knowledge and expertise of the sport.” The government checks all nominees are suitable for an honour, including whether they have paid their taxes. However, Mrs May’s resignation honours list would not have gone through the same review process as nominations for the New Year and Queen’s Birthday honours.
In those cases, a specific committee, for example one including figures from the world of sport, would consider the nominations before they go before the main honours committee. In contrast, people nominated for resignation honours only undergo propriety and probity checks by the Cabinet Office.
The 37 men and 20 women on Mrs May’s list include members of Downing Street staff, political aides and lifelong supporters of the Conservative Party. It includes recipients from all four nations of the UK as well as non-political figures and members of civic society.
Labour said the honours rewarded “big Tory donors and No 10 cronies”. Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, Mrs May’s former chiefs of staff who left their jobs after the 2017 general election in which the Conservatives lost their majority in the Commons, become Commanders of the Order of the British Empire, or CBEs.
The former prime minister’s chief EU negotiator Olly Robbins receives a knighthood. The senior civil servant helped to create Mrs May’s Brexit deal before it was defeated in Parliament three times. It has been announced that Mr Robbins is to join investment bank Goldman Sachs.
There is also a knighthood for her former director of communications, Robbie Gibb. When her predecessor David Cameron awarded a knighthood to his own head of communications, Craig Oliver, Mrs May later joked that she “retched violently” at seeing his name on the list.
Gavin Barwell, the former Tory MP who Mrs May brought in as her chief of staff to replace Mr Timothy and Ms Hill, is one of eight new Conservative peers. Sir Kim Darroch – who was forced to resign as ambassador to the US after comments he made about President Trump were leaked – has been made a crossbench peer. Boris Johnson, who was then running in the Tory leadership contest prior to becoming prime minister, was criticised at the time for not showing enough support for Sir Kim.
Meanwhile, there is a damehood for Cressida Dick, whose police career started at the age of 23 after a brief spell working in a fish-and-chip shop. She is one of just a few non-political figures on Mrs May’s list. Sir Simon Woolley, the founder of operation Black Vote, and Ruth Hunt, the ex-chief executive of Stonewall, have been made crossbench life peers.
British Empire Medals, or BEMs, have been awarded to Graham Howarth and Debra Wheatley – Mrs May’s head chef at Chequers and housekeeper at Downing Street respectively. The list of peerages – which sees those appointed sit in the House of Lords – include several nominated by other parties to sit on their benches.
‘Policy of restraint’
Among them are former NUT general secretary Christine Blower, for Labour, and former Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, who will become the party’s second peer in the House of Lords. The Lord Speaker, Lord Fowler, said Mrs May’s list was “substantially smaller” than those drawn up by predecessors, helping to reduce the size of the House of Lords.
Several MPs have received honours:
- Sir Patrick McLoughlin, Conservative MP for Derbyshire Dales (Companion of Honour)
- George Hollingbery, Conservative MP for Meon Valley (Knighthood)
- David Lidington, Conservative MP for Aylesbury (Knighthood)
- Charles Walker, Conservative MP for Broxbourne (Knighthood)
- Brandon Lewis, Conservative MP for Great Yarmouth (CBE)
- Julian Smith, Conservative MP for Skipton and Ripon (CBE)
- Seema Kennedy, Conservative MP for South Ribble (OBE)
John Mann, the Labour MP for Bassetlaw and an independent government adviser on anti-Semitism, received a non-affiliated peerage. Mr Mann is standing down as MP, citing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s handling of the party’s anti-Semitism crisis.
Margaret Ritchie, who was leader of the SDLP in Northern Ireland between 2010 and 2011, also received a non-affiliated peerage. She said she would remain “SDLP to the core” even though she has had to quit the party to become a peer. The former South Down MP made history in 2010 when she became the first leader of a nationalist party to wear a remembrance poppy. A source close to Mrs May said the list “recognises the many different people who have made a significant contribution to public life” during her political career.
Criticising Mrs May’s choices, Labour Party chairman Ian Lavery said: “It comes as no surprise that big Tory donors and Number 10 cronies are being honoured yet again. “The Tories only care about looking after their own and will only stand up for the wealthy few who fund them.” The SNP’s Pete Wishart accused Mrs May of “handing out peerages like sweeties”, adding that it was the “worst kind of cronyism”.