Lord Lebedev insists security advice linked to his peerage should be released
Evgeny Lebedev has insisted he has “nothing to hide” as he backed the publication of security advice linked to his appointment to the House of Lords.
The Russian-born businessman, who owns the Independent and Evening Standard newspapers, added “in the spirit of transparency” that Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer had messaged him to congratulate him on his appointment.
His remarks came as Labour tabled a House of Commons motion in a bid to force the Government to release documents about Boris Johnson’s involvement in the appointment.
They want Cabinet Office minister Steve Barclay to put all relevant information provided to the House of Lords Appointments Commission (HOLAC) before the Commons by no later than April 28.
Independent crossbench peer Lord Lebedev has previously acknowledged his father, oligarch Alexander Lebedev, was “a long time ago” a KGB officer but denied being “a security risk to this country”.
Questions have been raised over whether or not Mr Johnson asked anyone in the security services to revise, reconsider or withdraw their assessment of Lord Lebedev ahead of him joining the Lords in November 2020.
The Prime Minister’s former aide, Dominic Cummings, has claimed he was in the room when Mr Johnson was told by Cabinet Office officials that the “intelligence services and other parts of the deep state” had “serious reservations” about the PM’s plan to appoint the media mogul to the Lords.
Lord Lebedev wrote on Twitter: “Openness and transparency are pillars of our democratic system, so I welcome the call for security advice about me provided to Holac (House of Lords Appointments Commission) to be released.
“I have nothing to hide.”
In separate tweets, Lord Lebedev added: “And in the spirit of transparency here is a text to me from @Keir_Starmer: ‘Congratulations on your elevation to the House of Lords. All best wishes, Keir.’
“There’s a war in Europe. Britain is facing the highest cost of living since the 1950s. And you choose to debate me based on no facts and pure innuendo. What’s become of you @UKLabour #shadowofyourformerself.”
It is expected Conservative MPs will abstain if Labour presses its motion to a vote.
Opening the debate, Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner spoke of “serious questions” over Lord Lebedev’s peerage.
She said: “The commission concluded it could not support his nomination. Forty-eight hours later, the Prime Minister visited Lebedev at his home in London.
“Details of that meeting have never been released to the public and questions remain about whether the security services knew about this meeting or whether their assessments show that the Kremlin were keeping tabs on these activities.”
In July 2020, Lord Lebedev’s appointment as a peer was announced, she said, adding: “So the question is this, what changed between the security warning and the appointment?
“The British public have a right to know if and how an individual of apparent concern to our intelligence services was granted a seat at the heart of Parliament by personal order of the Prime Minister.
“Whether the Prime Minister was aware of that security advice but chose to ignore it, overrule it, or even demand that be changed.”
Cabinet Office minister Michael Ellis accused Labour of seeking to “whip up anti-Russian feeling”.
He said: “Not all Russians are our enemy. Many British citizens of Russian extraction came to this country with a view to an opposition to President Putin. People cancelling Tchaikovsky concerts is not appropriate and Labour seeking to whip up anti-Russian feeling, casting all persons of Russian extraction in a negative light is wrong.”
But Labour MP Stephen Kinnock (Aberavon), intervening, said he had lived and worked in Russia for three years before adding: “I’d humbly ask him to withdraw the comment about Russophobia – we have no problem with the Russian people, we have a big problem with what he’s talking about today.”
Mr Ellis said disclosing the information requested by Labour would “undermine the very role” of the House of Lords Appointments Commission.
But when asked by Labour MP Sarah Owen (Luton North) why Conservative MPs would not vote against the motion, Mr Ellis replied: “It’s quite normal practice to ignore Opposition motions. They are given the careful attention that they deserve. That is a matter that is common practice.”