Russian-born newspaper mogul Evgeny Lebedev has said he supports Labour’s call for information on the decision to give him a peerage to be made public as he has “nothing to hide”.
But the prime minister’s former senior aide Dominic Cummings has alleged he was “in the room” when Mr Johnson was informed of security concerns regarding Mr Lebedev’s perspective appointment.
Mr Cummings said intelligence officials told the PM they had “serious reservations” about the proposed move.
Labour call for advice and documents to be released
Labour has repeatedly pressed the government on the decision to award Lord Lebedev, the son of a former KGB agent, a seat in the House of Lords – particularly in the wake of outbreak of war in Ukraine.
Original reports in The Sunday Times newspaper suggested the PM was advised by the House of Lords Appointment Commission, which vets appointments to the House of Lords, which later changed its advice.
In a letter released earlier this month, the Commission confirmed it vetted Lord Lebedev’s appointment and advised the PM on the matter, but declined to comment further.
Labour is now using parliamentary procedures to try to force publication of the advice issued to and from the PM’s private office and the Cabinet Office to the House of Lords Appointment Commission about Lord Lebedev’s peerage.
Lord Lebedev has insisted he is not a “security risk” to the UK.
‘Openness and transparency are pillars of our democratic system’
Posting on social media ahead of the debate regarding his peerage, Lord Lebedev said in the interest of “openness and transparency” he supports calls for information related to his position in the House of Lords to be released.
“Openness and transparency are pillars of our democratic system, so I welcome the call for security advice about me provided to HOLAC to be released. I have nothing to hide,” he said.
In a second tweet, 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’.”
He continued: “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 UK Labour? #shadowofyourformerself.”
Using a Humble Address motion, which was used previously by the opposition in 2017 to force the government to release Brexit documents in the public domain, Labour wants to ensure all relevant correspondences including emails and minutes of meetings are published.
Lebedev’s Putin links ‘deeply concerning’ – Rayner
Opening the debate, Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said Lord Lebedev’s “deeply concerning links to Putin are well known”.
“The British public have a right to know if – and how – an individual of apparent concern to our intelligence services was granted a seat in the heart of parliament by personal order of the prime minister,” she said.
“Whether the prime minister was aware of that security advice, but chose to ignore it, over-rule it, or even demand that it be changed.”
She concluded: “This is a matter of national security and there can be no delay in getting transparency in this case.”
But, responding, Cabinet Office minister Sir Michael Ellis accused Labour of seeking to “whip up anti-Russian feeling” and warned that “not all Russians are our enemy”.
He said the government “regrets” Labour’s motion, telling MPs that the Commons has historically “exercised restraint” in demanding the release of documents.
Referencing Lord Lebedev’s tweet that Sir Keir had sent him a congratulatory text message when he was awarded the peerage, Sir Michael added: “Now, that must be rather embarrassing for the party opposite.”
Tory MPs may abstain
It is believed Conservative MPs have been ordered to abstain on the motion rather than to vote against it, vastly increasing the chances of the Humble Address motion passes.
Some of the government’s own backbench MPs had previously voiced their preference of the documents being released, and it is thought the order to abstain has been made in an attempt to quash a possible rebellion.
If the Humble Address motion does pass, the government will have until 28 April to produce the documents.