A revelation about Evgeny Lebedev’s peerage raises new concerns about the UK government’s links to influential Russian figures
Boris Johnson has been accused of personally intervening to help a Russian newspaper owner win a seat in the House of Lords.
This is despite security service concerns that granting a peerage to Yevgeny Lebedev posed a national security risk.
These warnings were passed on to the House of Lords Appointments Committee (Holac) who then wrote to Mr Johnson in March 2020 to advise him on the matter.
However, the Prime Minister is said to have pushed for the concerns to be dropped.
The revelations raise new concerns about the British government’s links to influential Russian figures as Vladimir Putin continues to invade neighboring Ukraine.
Who is Yevgeny Lebedev?
Evgeny Lebedev is the son of oligarch and former KGB agent Alexander Lebedev, and has been a friend of the prime minister since 2009.
In a recent memoir, Hunt the Banker, Alexander Lebedev traces his recruitment by the KGB, his assignment as a spy in London in 1988 and his exit from the world of espionage in 1992.
Evgeny Lebedev was presented to the House of Lords as a life peer in December 2020, despite warnings from MI5 and the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service – also known as MI6.
Lord Lebedev was born in Russia and is on the peerage list which includes Mr Johnson’s close political allies, party donors and his own brother Jo.
After being made a peer, he denounced the “snobbery and flippant racism” of critics who accused him of being one of the Prime Minister’s “pals”.
He told the Mail on Sunday at the time: ‘It’s a racism that sees the House of Lords as no place for someone like me.
Lebedev moved to London when he was eight years old and has remained in the UK ever since.
In 2009, he and his billionaire father bought a 65% stake in the Evening Standard.
A year later, he bought The Independent and launched the newspaper i.
How did Boris Johnson intervene?
The House of Lords Appointments Committee (Holac) advised Mr Johnson against granting the peerage in March 2020 after security warnings were reported to the Cabinet Office.
However, according to The Sunday Timesthe Tory leader dismissed the warnings as “anti-Russianism” and pushed for concerns to be dropped.
He met Lebedev at his home just two days after the initial rejection – the No 10 refused to reveal what was discussed.
But in June 2020, after Mr Johnson became involved, the security concerns were removed.
The Cabinet Office informed Holac that the security services no longer had a problem with the appointment.
A source told The Sunday Times that Mr Johnson had insisted that Lebedev’s peerage “pass”.
They added: “The initial advice was that they considered there might be a threat to national security.”
After the Prime Minister’s intervention, the source noted: ‘What intelligence would say is that with the additional information they have obtained, they felt it was not as significant of a threat. than they originally thought.”
Lord Lebedev told The Sunday Times that ‘all’ the claims were incorrect and that his questions ‘did not deserve an answer’.
How did Labor react?
Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer said he was “very concerned” at reports surfacing around Lebedev’s nomination to the House of Lords.
He told the BBC’s Sunday morning show: ‘I am very concerned about this story because it goes to the heart of national security and there is at least the suggestion that the government and the Prime Minister have been warned that there was a national security risk in this particular meeting.
“I think in the circumstances what is the appropriate thing for the Intelligence and Security Committee, which is an all-party committee in Parliament that can have access to confidential documents – I think this matter should be referred to this committee so they can look into this story.
He added: “This allegation – which is very serious because, of course, it is a matter of national security – I hope the government will respond to it today.
“I think the right thing to do is to send it to the committee, to the cross-party committee, which can review the confidential documents and form an opinion on what really happened and the risks that the government may or may not have take. ”
Deputy Labor leader Angela Rayner said the PM had ‘risked national security’.
She said: “There must be an urgent investigation into how the Prime Minister was able to ignore security reports, including the requests that were made to the intelligence services to reverse their decision, and whether parliamentary bodies have been consulted.
“Boris Johnson’s disregard for facts is a threat to us all.”
What did the government say?
A British government spokesman commented: “All individuals appointed to a peerage are appointed in recognition of their contribution to society and all peerages are scrutinized by the House of Lords Appointments Commission.”
Justice Secretary Dominic Raab said there was “a very strict and rigorous process when someone is granted a peerage”.
He told the BBC’s Sunday Morning: “I don’t know the facts of the case, I wasn’t involved in it.
“But I know it was applied very rigorously in this case.”
He added: “It was done properly and correctly, and we have procedures and systems in place to ensure that.”
What is Yevgeny Lebedev’s position on Ukraine?
Last week, Lebedev wrote an open letter urging Putin to stop the war on the front page of his London newspaper the Evening Standard.
He wrote: “As Europe stands on the brink of another world war and the world stands on the brink of a possible nuclear catastrophe, I implore you to use today’s negotiations to end this terrible conflict in Ukraine.”
A statement posted alongside a photograph of a paramedic performing CPR on a girl injured in a shelling read: “On this page are the final minutes of a six-year-old child fatally injured by shells that hit his building in Mariupol on Sunday.
“She is still wearing her pink jacket as doctors fight to save her. But it’s too late. Other children and other families are suffering the same fate across Ukraine.
He added: “As a Russian citizen, I beg you to stop the Russians from killing their Ukrainian brothers and sisters.
“As a British citizen, I ask you to save Europe from war.”
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