Labor accuse Boris Johnson of ‘covering up’ advice on Lord Lebedev’s peerage nomination

Labor accused the government of a “cover-up” after ministers resisted party calls for the security services to give advice to Boris Johnson before his decision to nominate Lord Lebedev for a peerage was made public. .

Ministers today published a set of documents relating to the appointment of Mr Lebedevbut they have been redacted to a great extent.

A written statement from Cabinet Office minister Michael Ellis said that, although not made public, “the government has provided a response to the Committee on Intelligence and Security.”

He added: “I think this exchange of information illustrates that the government is acting in good faith in responding to parliament’s request for information.”

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In the publicly released documents, there is nothing about the advice given by the intelligence services.

Responding to Ellis’s statement, Labor Vice-President Angela Rayner said: “This looks like a cover-up and smells like a cover-up because it is a cover-up.

“If the prime minister claims that he was not involved in forcing the granting of a noble title to a person of interest to our intelligence services, he should clarify and publish the documents as ordered by parliament.

“The government has not provided a single piece of information in these highly redacted documents, without complying with a direct instruction from parliament.

“Once again, the government seeks to hide in the shadows of the sunlight of scrutiny. We will take steps to rectify this contempt of parliament.

“The public has a right to know the truth about Boris Johnson’s meddling in the appointment of his friend Lord Lebedev, the son and business partner of a former KGB agent, to a seat at the heart of our parliament. to the bottom of this whole murky business.

Meanwhile, the Intelligence and Security Committee said it was “shocked” by the minister’s statement, saying: “As far as the ISC is concerned, at this stage our request for information should have remained a private and classified oversight matter.” .

He said it was too early to determine whether the information he had received was “sufficient” since he received it on Wednesday.

The documents released today into the public domain, totaling just nine pages, include:

• An email containing a consent form from the House of Lords Appointment Committee
• A blank consent form
• A long quote explaining who Lord Lebedev is
• A list of names reviewed by the House of Lords Appointments Committee
• A press release of who would receive political noble titles in 2020
• An email sent to Lord Lebedev explaining the procedure to be presented to the Lords

Mr Lebedev
Lord Lebedev, the son of a former KGB agent, owns the Independent newspaper and the Evening Standard.

The statement released by Ellis on Thursday said: “As set forth in today’s House of Commons document, the release of these documents reflects the need to protect national security, to maintain integrity in the system for granting honors and dignities by the Crown, the verification of the probity of the candidates and the data protection rights of the people”.

In March, MPs voted in favor of the publication of documents relating to the Russian-born businessman and the prime minister’s decision to put him forward for a place in the House of Lords.

It came after a report in The Sunday Times suggested that Johnson had gone ahead with the nomination of the Moscow-born newspaper owner, even after intelligence officials raised concerns about the appointment.

At the time, Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer said that the the prime minister had “serious questions to answer”.

The government initially tried to block the Labor motion seeking to force publication of the documents, suggesting it was anti-Russian.

But the Conservative whips later allowed the motion to pass unopposed.

The government then missed the original deadline for publication, which was due at the end of April.

At the original deadline, Ellis said more time was needed to consider what redactions would be required for national security reasons.

In the statement released on Thursday, Ellis said: “I can assure parliament that any information indicating a national security concern arising from a potential appointment will be given due consideration before a decision is made.

“Should the Prime Minister recommend a peerage against the Commission’s formal advice on suitability, the Commission has previously undertaken to write publicly to the relevant Parliamentary Select Committee.”

He continued: “The chairman of the Commission, Lord Bew, pointed out in evidence before PACAC (Public Service and Constitutional Affairs Committee) last month that that was not the case in this appointment. He also pointed out that no pressure was put on the Commission on this matter. The conclusions of the Commission’s deliberations are clear.”

The statement adds that Lord Lebedev “is a man of good reputation”, adding: “No complaint has been made about his personal conduct. He had voiced his criticism of the Putin regime.”

Mr Lebedev, the son of a former KGB agent, owns the Independent newspaper and the Evening Standard. He was awarded a noble title in 2020.

He denied posing a “security risk” to the UK and backed the government’s advice publication on the matter, tweeting: “I do not have anything to hide.”

But opposition MPs have raised questions about whether Johnson ignored advice to reconsider the nomination.

Last month, the chairman of the House of Lords Appointments Committee denied there had been pressure to approve the No. 10 appointment.

Lord Bew told MPs that there was “uncertainty” around the case, that it had involved “a special set of circumstances” and a “particular complexity” around talks with investigative agencies, but that Boris Johnson had not intervened. personally.

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