Who is Evgeny Lebedev? Boris Johnson accused of intervening to help Russian newspaper owner get a peerage

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A revelation about Evgeny Lebedev’s peerage raises new concerns over the UK Government’s links to influential Russian figures

Boris Johnson has been accused of personally intervening to help a Russian newspaper owner get a seat in the House of Lords.

This is despite concerns from security services that granting a peerage to Evgeny Lebedev posed a risk to national security.

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Those warnings were passed onto the House of Lords Appointments Commission (Holac) which then wrote to Mr Johnson in March 2020 advising him on the matter.

However, it is said the Prime Minister pushed to have the concerns dropped.

The revelations raise new concerns about the British government’s links to influential Russian figures as Vladimir Putin continues to invade neighbouring Ukraine.

Who is Evgeny Lebedev?

Evgeny Lebedev is the son of oligarch and former KGB agent Alexander Lebedev, and has been a friend of the Prime Minister since 2009.

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In a recent memoir, Hunt the Banker, Alexander Lebedev charts his recruitment by the KGB, his posting as a spy in London in 1988 and his exit from the world of espionage in 1992.

Evgeny Lebedev was introduced to the House of Lords as a life peer in December 2020, despite warnings from MI5 and the UK's Secret Intelligence Service - also known as MI6.

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Lord Lebedev was born in Russia and is part of the peerages list which include Mr Johnson’s close political allies, party donors and his own brother Jo.

After being made a peer he condemned the “snobbery and casual racism” of critics who accused him of being one of the Prime Minister’s “cronies”.

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He told the Mail on Sunday at the time: “This is a racism that considers the House of Lords to be no place for someone such as me.”

Lebedev moved to London aged eight and has remained in the UK since.

In 2009, he and his billionaire father bought a 65% stake in the Evening Standard.

A year later, he bought The Independent and launched the i newspaper.

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Elizabeth Hurley and Evgeny Lebedev attend Centrepoint At The Palace at Kensington Palace on November 10, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images)Elizabeth Hurley and Evgeny Lebedev attend Centrepoint At The Palace at Kensington Palace on November 10, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images)
Elizabeth Hurley and Evgeny Lebedev attend Centrepoint At The Palace at Kensington Palace on November 10, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images) | Getty Images

How did Boris Johnson intervene?

The House of Lords Appointments Commission (Holac) advised Mr Johnson against granting the peerage in March 2020 after security warnings were reported to the Cabinet Office.

However, according to The Sunday Times, the Tory leader dismissed the warnings as “anti-Russianism” and pushed for the concerns to be dropped.

He met Lebedev at his home just two days after the initial rejection - No 10 declined to reveal what was discussed.

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But by June 2020, after Mr Johnson’s involvement, security concerns were withdrawn.

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The Cabinet Office advised Holac that the security services no longer had an issue with the appointment.

A source told The Sunday Times that Mr Johnson insisted Lebedev’s peerage “go through”.

They added: “Initial advice was that they considered that there could be a threat to national security.”

After the Prime Minister’s intervention, the source noted: “What the intelligence would say was, that with the extra information it got, they felt it wasn’t as big a threat as they had initially thought.”

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Lord Lebedev told the Sunday Times “all” the claims were incorrect and its questions did not “merit an answer”.

How has Labour reacted?

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said he was “very concerned” about the reports surfacing surrounding the appointment of Lebedev to the House of Lords.

He told the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme: “I’m very concerned about that story, because it goes to the heart of national security and there’s at least the suggestion that the Government and the Prime Minister were warned that there was a national security risk in this particular appointment.

“I think, in the circumstances, what the appropriate thing is for the Intelligence and Security Committee, which is a cross-party committee in Parliament that can have access to confidential material – I think this case should be referred to that committee so they can look into this story.”

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He added: “This allegation – which is very serious because, of course, it’s a matter of national security – I hope the Government will answer it today.

“I think the right thing to do is to refer it to the committee, cross-party committee, that can look at the confidential material and come to a view on what actually happened and the risks that the Government may or may not have taken.”

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said the PM had "risked national security".

She said: "There must be an urgent investigation into how the Prime Minister was able to ignore security reports, including what requests were made of the intelligence services to overturn their decision, and whether parliamentary bodies were consulted.

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"Boris Johnson’s disregard for the facts is a threat to us all."

What has the Government said?

A UK Government spokesman commented: “All individuals nominated for a peerage are done so in recognition of their contribution to society and all peerages are vetted by the House of Lords Appointments Commission.”

Justice Secretary Dominic Raab said there was “a very strict and stringent process when anyone is granted a peerage”.

He told the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme: “I don’t know the facts of the case, I wasn’t involved in it.

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“But I do know that it was applied very rigorously in this case.”

He added: “This was done properly and correctly, and we have procedures and systems in place to make sure it is.”

What is Evgeny Lebedev’s stance on Ukraine?

Last week Lebedev wrote an open letter urging Putin to stop the war on the front page of his London newspaper the Evening Standard.

He wrote: “As Europe stands on the brink of another world war, and the world on the brink of a possible nuclear disaster, I plead with you to use today’s negotiations to bring this terrible conflict in Ukraine to an end.”

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A statement published alongside a photograph of a paramedic performing CPR on a girl injured by shelling read: “On this page are the final minutes of a six-year-old child fatally injured by shells that struck her Mariupol apartment block on Sunday.

“She is still wearing her pink jacket as medics fight to save her. But it is too late. Other children, and other families, are suffering similar fates across Ukraine.”

He added: "As a Russian citizen I plead with you to stop Russians killing their Ukrainian brothers and sisters.

“As a British citizen I ask you to save Europe from war."

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