MPs backed the amendment to strip Sir Philip Green of his knighthood at a backbench debate in the House of Commons today.
“He took the rings from BHS’s fingers, beat it black and blue, starved it, put it on life support and then wanted credit for keeping it alive,” said Iain Wright, chair of the business, innovation and skills committee, in a scathing attack on Green’s time at the helm of BHS, which collapsed earlier this year.
MPs were particularly angered by his lack of action to fix the gaping pension deficit, which he promised to “sort” in the summer.
“Over the summer, Sir Philip Green has had the opportunity to find his moral compass and to do the right thing. In the absence of that, the house has no question but to support the amendment,” said Richard Fuller, Conservative MP for Bedford and Kempston.
Earlier this week, the Pensions Regulator confirmed that it is “yet to receive a comprehensive and credible written proposal” from Sir Philip Green, and warned it will use recovery powers if a deal is not reached within weeks. Green, meanwhile, said he has another meeting scheduled with the regulator to “iron out any technicalities” and is very close to making a written offer.
Wright asked: “Sir Philip Green is meant to be the consummate deal-maker – why has the pension deficit not been sorted already?”
Frank Field, chair of the work and pensions committee, likened Green to “the Napoleon that I read in the history books” as “literally nothing happened in BHS or Arcadia without Green deciding directly or people knowing what his view was” – once again raising issues of the lack of effective corporate governance at the firms.
MPs were scathing about his abilities as a retailer. Field declared: “There is nothing this committee could find that shows Sir Philip Green was king of the high street – he was an asset-stripper.”
Wright, meanwhile, said Amancio Ortega of Zara and Sir Charlie Mayfield of John Lewis Partnership are the “true kings of modern retail”, rather than Green, who he said failed to anticipate the online revolution and lost market share.
Field compared the demise of BHS to a “sad, slowly unfolding Greek tragedy” and said Green, as a man of tremendous wealth, “could have paid modestly and walked away smelling of roses” if he had acted sooner in relation to the pension deficit.
Fuller took a strong moral stance in relation to Green’s knighthood and said: “Honour has to mean something in the behaviour of our businesses.”
The outcome of today’s debate is non-binding, but is expected to heap pressure on the Honours Forfeiture Committee to take action.