At Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner called for the government to guarantee that the prime minister did not override UK security services to grant Evgeny Lebedev his peerage in 2020.
Evgeny Lebedev, known now as Lord Lebedev, is the son of Russian billionaire and former KGB officer, Alexander Lebedev, but moved to the UK as a child and holds British citizenship. He is also a known friend of prime minister Boris Johnson and owns both the Independent and London Evening Standard newspapers.
The Sunday Times newspaper reported that UK security services had raised concerns that Evgeny Lebedev would pose a security risk if given a seat in Parliament when nominated for a peerage, but this warning was removed following an intervention by the PM. Boris Johnson has denied the content of the report.
Addressing deputy prime minister Dominic Raab, who stood in for Johnson during his visit to Saudi Arabia to discuss energy, Rayner pushed for cast-iron guarantees that the PM did not override security concerns to do his close contact a favour.
Rayner said: “There is no ifs or buts when it comes to the safety of the British people. The central duty of any government is to keep the British people safe.
“There are now widespread reports that the prime minister did not accept warnings from our own intelligence services, granting a Russian oligarch - the son and business partner of a KGB spy - a seat here in this Parliament.
“It shouldn't matter if such a warning was about a close personal friend of the prime minister, it shouldn't matter if he gave the prime minister thousands of pounds of gifts, and it shouldn't matter how much champagne and caviar he serves.
"So, I ask the deputy prime minister, can he guarantee that the prime minister never asked anyone to urge the security services to revise, reconsider or withdraw their assessment of Lord Lebedev of Hampton and Siberia?”
Raab defended the record of the Conservative party on security matters and called it “sheer nonsense” that Lord Lebedev would pose any security risk which the PM would then have overlooked.
He also hit out at Labour’s record on security issues, bringing up its former leader Jeremy Corbyn and attacking his stance on defence and the UK’s place in NATO.
Raab said: “A Labour government would put at risk our security. We are doing everything to protect it.”
Raab also raised that any individuals nominated for a peerage were subject to a robust vetting process and that many people of Russian origin living in the UK “contribute brilliantly to our nation” and “are critics of the Putin regime.”
Writing in his own Evening Standard newspaper, Lord Lebedev has denied the idea that he poses a risk to national security, saying that he is not “some agent of Russia” and is “proud to be a British citizen and consider Britain my home”.
Lord Lebedev has also been a critic of Russian president, Vladimir Putin, writing: “I plead with you to stop Russians killing their Ukrainian brothers and sisters.”
Photo by Heidi Fin on Unsplash