Sir Philip Green was labelled a “billionaire spiv” yesterday as MPs backed removing his knighthood over his role in the collapse of BHS.
The businessman, knighted for services to the retail industry, was also compared to Napoleon and Robert Maxwell as MPs queued up to condemn his behaviour during a three-hour Commons debate.
While the motion to quash his knighthood is not binding, it will put huge pressure on the independent honours forfeiture committee to act. Theresa May had already raised concerns about bosses who milked businesses, and ministers and No 10 have indicated that the government will tighten laws to stop workers from paying the price for poor management.
There has been widespread anger at Sir Philip’s role in the downfall of BHS, which cost 11,000 jobs and left a £571 million “buy out” deficit in the company’s pension scheme. In 2015 Sir Philip sold BHS for £1 to a consortium led by Dominic Chappell, who had been declared bankrupt three times.
The criticisms were led by Iain Wright, the Labour MP who chairs the Commons business committee. He described the department store’s collapse as “one of the biggest corporate scandals of modern times”, adding: “[Sir Philip] took the rings from BHS’s fingers, beat it black and blue, starved it of food and water, put it on life support and then wanted credit for keeping it alive.”
Frank Field, the Labour MP who chaired the work and pensions committee that examined the BHS collapse, said: “In my mind’s eye this was a character most like the Napoleon I read about in the history books while I was at school . . . He was and is a very successful traditional asset-stripper.”
The Labour MP Dennis Skinner said that he had “always thought Sir Philip Green was more of a [Robert] Maxwell”.
David Winnick, a Labour member of the home affairs select committee, said that Sir Philip should never have been given a knighthood in the first place. He accused the businessman of avoiding tax by putting the business in the name of his wife, who lives in Monaco.
“I see Green as a billionaire spiv, a billionaire spiv who should never have received a knighthood, a billionaire spiv which has shamed British capitalism, and the least we can do today is to make our views clear and strong,” Mr Winnick said.
The business minister Margot James said that new laws could be passed to stop bosses running companies at the expense of their workers. “Should we need to bring forward further legislation in light of all the evidence, including that emerging from the BHS investigation, we will do so,” she said.
It is now up to the honours forfeiture committee, overseen by Sir Jonathan Stephens, a senior civil servant, to decide whether to investigate the knighthood. The public outcry about Fred Goodwin, the former chief executive of Royal Bank of Scotland whose disastrous failures led to the bank being bailed out by the government, played a large role in the committee’s decision to strip him of his knighthood in 2012. Mrs May used her party conference speech to suggest that she wanted to see business figures held accountable for their actions. She attacked bosses who earn a fortune but do not look after their staff.
Sir Philip apologised in an interview with ITV News for the “hardship and sadness” caused by the BHS collapse. He said he “did everything possible” to save it. The politicians were dismissive of a legal opinion, commissioned by Sir Philip, that cleared him of wrongdoing in the sale of BHS. It was written by Lord Pannick, QC, and Michael Todd, QC, two of the country’s top barristers.