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Watchdog investigates amid cover-up allegation over Lebedev peerage details

By Sam Blewett
PA Archive

Parliament’s intelligence watchdog is scrutinising Evgeny Lebedev’s appointment to the House of Lords, it has emerged, as the Government was accused of a “cover-up” by withholding detailed security advice over the Russian-born businessman.

The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) rebuked Cabinet Office minister Michael Ellis for revealing its “classified” request for information relating to the peerage for the son of a former KGB agent.

Mr Ellis disclosed the request as he announced he would withhold publishing the full extent of the documents ordered by the Commons as he cited the need to “protect national security” and to maintain the “integrity” of the honours system.

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner told Boris Johnson to “come clean” if he has nothing to hide as she vowed to fight “this contempt of Parliament”.

Lord Lebedev is the son of a former KGB agent (Dominic Lipinski/PA) (PA Wire)

The appointment has been shrouded in controversy after the Sunday Times alleged security services withdrew an assessment that granting the peerage posed a national security risk after the Prime Minister intervened.

Lord Lebedev, the owner of the London Evening Standard and a shareholder in The Independent, and son of oligarch Alexander Lebedev, was appointed to the House of Lords in November 2020.

The House of Commons approved a Labour motion in March seeking to force the Government to release documents about Mr Johnson’s involvement.

But on Thursday ministers simply released the blank form Lord Lebedev was required to fill in by the House of Lords Appointments Commission, the public citation announcing his appointment.

They also published a list of the other peerages awarded at the same time, and a couple of email exchanges with almost all content redacted apart from a note congratulating him on the news.

Ms Rayner said: “This looks like a cover-up and smells like a cover-up because it is a cover-up.

“The public have a right to know the truth about Boris Johnson’s interference in the appointment of his friend Lord Lebedev, the son and business partner of an ex-KGB agent, to a seat in the heart of our Parliament. It is time to get to the bottom of this whole murky business.”

Mr Ellis said in a statement that the Government was “committed to openness and transparency” but it had to take into account security concerns as well as the need to maintain the “integrity” of the honours system.

“It is also the case that when considering requests for information from Parliament, the Government has a responsibility to consider whether it is in the public interest to place information into the public domain,” he said.

“As laid out in today’s House of Commons paper, the disclosure of these documents reflects the need to protect national security, to maintain integrity in the system for the awarding of honours and dignities by the Crown, the vetting of nominees for probity and the data protection rights of individuals.”

A letter congratulating Lord Lebedev on his peerage (Christopher McKeon/PA) (PA Wire)

Mr Ellis said that in response to a separate request, the Government would be sending information relating to “any national security matters arising” to the ISC, which normally sits in private.

“Lord Lebedev is a man of good standing. No complaint has been made about his personal conduct. He has been vocal in his criticism of the Putin regime,” he added.

However, the ISC released a statement to say it had made its request for more information “on a classified basis”.

The committee said it was too soon to determine whether the information received is “sufficient” having only received it on Wednesday, despite having set an April 28 deadline to align with one set by the Commons.

“So far as the ISC is concerned, at this stage our request for information should have remained a private – and classified – matter of oversight,” the statement added.

Labour has previously called for an ISC investigation into the appointment.

Downing Street sought to defend withholding the security advice.

A No 10 spokesman said: “It’s our responsibility to protect the integrity of the vetting process which is voluntarily entered into on a confidential basis.

“We are committed to transparency but the disclosure we’ve made reflects the need to maintain the integrity of the system.”

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Dive Deeper:
Ministers accused of cover-up as release of Lebedev peerage details is blocked
Questions have emerged whether Boris Johnson intervened to ask the security services to reconsider their assessment.
Tory ministers accused of cover-up as release of Lebedev peerage details is blocked
THE UK Government has been accused of a “cover-up” by Labour after withholding detailed security advice over Russian-born businessman Evgeny…
Intelligence Committee probing Boris Johnson's peerage for his Russian-born pal
The secretive body confirmed it had made a classified request for information about businessman Evgeny Lebedev's peerage - and its…
Government refuses to release Lebedev peerage details despite MPs’ instruction
Commons told ministers to publish information after revelations of intelligence service concerns over businessman’s appointment
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Ministers block release of Lebedev peerage details on security grounds
Cabinet Office minister Michael Ellis said it was necessary to protect the ‘integrity’ of the system for awarding honours.
Ministers accused of 'covering up' MI6 advice on Boris Johnson's Russian-born pal
Despite being ordered by Parliament to release the documents - a minister said in a lengthy statement that they had…
Get all your news in one place