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Raab: Nonsense to suggest PM pressed security services over Lebedev peerage

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner repeatedly pressed Dominic Raab over Lord Lebedev’s elevation to the upper House during Prime Minister’s Questions.

16 March 2022

Dominic Raab insisted he has “never overruled” intelligence advice as he was forced to defend Russian-born businessman Evgeny Lebedev’s appointment to the House of Lords.

The Deputy Prime Minister told MPs it was “sheer nonsense” to suggest Boris Johnson had asked anyone in the security services to revise, reconsider or withdraw their assessment of Lord Lebedev.

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner repeatedly pressed Mr Raab during Prime Minister’s Questions over Lord Lebedev’s elevation to the upper House and raised reports that the head of MI6 held security concerns over the appointment.

Justice Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab speaks during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons
Justice Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab speaks during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons (House of Commons/PA)

Labour MP Matt Western (Warwick and Leamington) later channelled his inner Mrs Merton when he asked Mr Raab: “What first attracted the Prime Minister to the billionaire Russian oligarchs?”

During an appearance on The Mrs Merton Show in the 1990s, Caroline Aherne famously asked TV star Debbie McGee: “What attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels?”

Communities Secretary Michael Gove has previously said there was a “distinction to be drawn” between Lord Lebedev and his ex-KGB father, the oligarch Alexander Lebedev.

Lord Lebedev acknowledged last week that his father was “a long time ago” a KGB officer but denied being “a security risk to this country”.

Speaking in the Commons, Ms Rayner said: “(Mr Raab) was foreign secretary on March 17 2020 when British intelligence reportedly warned against the granting of peerage to the Prime Minister’s close friend and now Lord Lebedev of Hampton and Siberia.

“Forty-eight hours later the Prime Minister visited Lebedev at his home in London; details of that meeting have never been released.

“In July 2020 Lebedev’s appointment as peer was announced. So can he tell the House what changed between the security warning and the appointment?”

Mr Raab said: “(Ms Rayner) knows full well all individuals nominated for a peerage are done so in recognition of what their contribution is to society.

“And I should say, that includes those of Russian origin who contribute brilliantly to our nation, many of whom in this country are critics of the Putin regime.

“Life peerages are vetted by the House of Lords Appointments Commission for matters of probity and frankly I think she should know better.”

Ms Rayner continued to press, asking: “The Deputy Prime Minister oversaw our foreign intelligence services as foreign secretary.

Deputy Labour Leader Angela Rayner speaks during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner speaks during Prime Minister’s Questions (House of Commons/PA)

“So, can he confirm if at any time he overruled or ignored direct advice from the British security services?”

Mr Raab replied: “Can I say to (Ms Rayner) what she suggests is nonsense. She’s talking about the House of Lords Appointments Commission. They have a vetting process. I have never overruled intelligence advice and I wouldn’t comment on the details of it.”

Ms Rayner also told the Commons: “There are now widespread reports that the Prime Minister did not accept warnings from our own intelligence services, granting a Russian oligarch, the son and business partner of a KGB spy, a seat here in this Parliament.

“It shouldn’t matter if such a warning was about a close personal friend of the Prime Minister. It shouldn’t matter if he gave the Prime Minister thousands of pounds of gifts. And it shouldn’t matter how much champagne and caviar he serves.

“There is no ifs or buts when it comes to the safety of the British people. So I ask the Deputy Prime Minister, can he guarantee that the Prime Minister never asked anyone to urge the security services to revise, reconsider or withdraw their assessment of Lord Lebedev of Hampton and Siberia?”

Mr Raab replied: “The suggestion she’s making is sheer nonsense.

“But if she wants to talk about national security then I remind her that she and her shadow cabinet colleagues not so long ago wanted the honourable member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn)… a man who wanted and talked about abolishing the Army, pulling out of Trident – she voted for that.

“Has there ever been a more ridiculous, reckless, naive moment to call for unilateral nuclear disarmament and pulling out of Nato?

“A Labour government would put at risk our security. We’re doing everything we can to protect it.”

Lord Lebedev, who owns the Independent and Evening Standard newspapers, has previously said in a statement on the Evening Standard website: “I am not a security risk to this country, which I love.

“My father a long time ago was a foreign intelligence agent of the KGB, but I am not some agent of Russia.”

The Moscow-born media mogul has long held ties to the British establishment.

In addition to the Prime Minister, Lord Lebedev has long-standing friendships with A-list celebrities in the UK.

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