Johnson could be forced to release secret Lebedev dossier

Labour will tomorrow try to force the government to release secret papers relating to Boris Johnson’s controversial appointment of Evgeny Lebedev to the House of Lords.

Adam Bychawski http://www.opendemocracy.net 

Tuesday’s vote will call on Steve Barclay, the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, to give up all documents held by Number 10 and the Cabinet Office relating to advice from the House of Lords Appointments Committee about Lebedev’s appointment. Deputy leader Angela Rayner will also use the vote – officially a ‘humble address’ – to ask for records of meetings at which the appointment was discussed.

It comes after Boris Johnson denied allegations that he had intervened to secure the peerage for Lebedev, who is a close friend, in July 2020 after intelligence services warned it would be a security risk. Lebedev, whose father is a former Russian spy, has fiercely denied posing any such risk to the UK.

Last week, former Number 10 adviser Dominic Cummings turned up the heat on Johnson by claiming he was in the room when the PM was told by Cabinet Office officials that there were “serious reservations” from intelligence services about his plan to appoint Lebedev.

Cummings went on to claim that Johnson had “cut a deal” with officials to present a “sanitised” version of the security report to the House of Lords Appointments Committee, which is responsible for scrutinising the nomination of new peers.

openDemocracy previously revealed that Johnson had a “personal” meeting with the Russian-born oligarch just days after telling the British public to avoid ‘non-essential contact’ in March 2020.

Lebedev is the longstanding proprietor of two British newspapers – The Independent and the Evening Standard. His father, from whom he derives his wealth, is the billionaire oligarch and former KGB agent Alexander Lebedev.

Lebedev Jr has previously defended Vladimir Putin and questioned Russia’s involvement in the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, the Kremlin critic poisoned with polonium at a London hotel.

Johnson has maintained a close relationship with Lebedev Jr since they met in 2009. He attended at least four parties at the Russian oligarch’s Umbrian villa during his time as London mayor, using Lebedev’s private jet to fly there and back to London.

Earlier this month, The Sunday Times reported that the head of MI6 had expressed concerns that the Russian businessman was “keen to ingratiate himself with the British establishment” a decade ago.

Rayner accused the prime minister of putting “personal interest before the public’s”.

“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 our Parliament by Boris Johnson, against security advice,” she added.

Since taking up his peerage in December 2020, Lebedev has spoken only once and never voted.

In February, he wrote an open letter to Putin, in which he urged the Russian president to “bring this terrible conflict in Ukraine to an end”.

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