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Keir Starmer Calls For Intelligence and Security Committee Investigation Into Lebedev Peerage

3 min read

The Labour leader Keir Starmer has called for Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee to look into the decision to award the Russian businessman Evgeny Lebedev a peerage.

It follows reports the security services withdrew a warning that he was a national security risk after an intervention by Boris Johnson.

The Sunday Times reported the Prime Minister went ahead with the nomination of Lebedev, the son of an ex-KGB agent and owner of the Evening Standard and Independent, even after intelligence officials had raised concerns about him.

The House of Lords Appointments Commission (Holac), which vets peerages, wrote to the prime minister in 2020 advising him against granting Lebedev a seat in the Lords. Johnson is reported to have responded to the advice by claiming: “This is anti-Russianism."

The letter was based on intelligence provided by MI5 and MI6, and handed to the commission by the Cabinet Office. Holac would later receive an update about Lebedev that advised the security services no longer deemed his peerage to be problematic, the Sunday Times reported.

On the BBC's Sunday Morning, Starmer said: "It goes to the heart of national security and there's at least a suggestion the Prime Minister was warned there was a national security risk. 

"The appropriate thing is for the Intelligence and Security Committee to look into it."

Lebedev told the Sunday Times that “all” of the assertions in its report were incorrect, and the questions did not “merit an answer”. 

A government spokesperson told the paper: "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.”

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab called for Starmer to produce evidence, and said: "There is a strict and stringent process when anyone is granted a peerage – I know it was applied very rigorously in this case."

Starmer also appeared to withdraw his demand for Boris Johnson to resign in the wake of "Partygate": "I do think there's an issue of trust but I'm very clear that when it comes to standing up to Russia it's very important we're united. We stand as one," he said.

The Labour leader is also calling on the Prime Minister to work with him to combat "lawfare", urging the Prime Minister to work with him on new legislation to block Russian oligarchs from pursuing vexatious high-cost legal claims through British courts to avoid sanctions.  

He said: “We are already behind the rest of the world in enforcing sanctions against oligarchs funding Putin’s murderous invasion of Ukraine. We can’t then also give room for them to sue their way out of sanctions, while gagging the UK’s media. Lawfare is not the way we do things in this country. The freedom of the British press is to be cherished, respected, and protected. 

“The Russian leadership is fuelled by a thuggish brutality that we cannot allow to filtrate through his rich cronies to clog up our courts, muzzle our press, and avoid just, fair and effective sanctions."  

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