Sir Philip Green should be stripped of his knighthood if he boycotts a grilling by MPs over the collapse of BHS, shadow chancellor John McDonnell said.
In a tirade against a “squalid elite” of wealthy business leaders, he said the threatened no-show was an “insult to the British public” and the demise of the retailer “makes a mockery of those in business who are doing the right thing”.
The Topshop tycoon is refusing to give evidence to a parliamentary inquiry unless Labour’s Frank Field, who he accuses of bias, steps aside as chair of the work and pensions select committee.
He threatened the no-show after the former welfare minister said the panel would “laugh” if the wealthy businessman offered less than £600 million to save the pensions of the workforce.
“I am not prepared to participate in a process which has not even the pretence of fairness and objectivity and which has as its primary objective the destruction of my reputation,” he told him in a letter.
The committee – along with the business select committee – are investigating the £1 sale of the retailer to ex-bankrupt Dominic Chappell and the subsequent collapse that left a £571 million black hole in its pension fund.
Mr Field dismissed the complaint and business committee chair Iain Wright said Sir Philip risked appearing to be “running scared” and having “something to hide” if he stayed away.
Writing in The Observer, Mr McDonnell said recent scandals had exposed “a growing elite who think they are above the law and above British decency” and vowed to implement “anti-freeloader” measures if Labour returned to power.
Dramatic evidence heard by MPs about practices at Sports Direct and BHS showed the UK was in “a new age of the robber barons” that threatened to “undermine the foundations on which all genuine wealth creation is built”, he said.
In a direct attack on Sir Philip, he wrote: “This week, we may witness Philip Green (I refuse to use his title) justify his actions at BHS. 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. 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 spat between Sir Philip and Mr Field intensified after the MP told The Financial Times that the committee “may have considered a reasonable settlement in the very early days of our inquiry, but things have changed”.
“Sir Philip needs to convince us that he’s come up with the very best deal for those pensioners,” he said.
The schemes of approximately 20,000 current and former BHS workers have fallen into the Pension Protection Fund after administrators called time on attempts to find a buyer for the business.
Sir Philip wrote: “Without even waiting for next week’s oral evidence session, you have used your position as chair of the work and pensions committee to do your very best to destroy my reputation.
“Your bias against me and lack of any interest in a fair process are demonstrated clearly.”
Mr McDonnell said firms found to have been paying less than the minimum wage should be forced to recognise trade unions and have a union representative on their boards.
“This new squalid elite assume that by their own genius they have amassed large sums of money, and that they have a right to do what they like, when they like, and that no one will stop them,” he wrote.
“Maybe this is true under a Tory government, but under a Labour government with Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister this will no longer be the case.
“This is not anti-business. It’s anti-freeloader. If we allow these practices to continue they will undermine the foundations on which all genuine wealth creation is built.”