Johnson Blocks Publication of Secret Lebedev Advice Due to ‘National Security’ Concerns
The Prime Minister has failed to release the advice he received from the security services about his friend Evgeny Lebedev, despite MPs voting for its release, reports Adam Bienkov
Boris Johnson has been accused of a “cover up” after blocking the publication of the full advice he received from UK security services about handing a peerage to Evgeny Lebedev, with ministers only publishing heavily redacted details about his appointment.
The House of Commons voted at the end of April to compel the Government to publish the advice he received about the son of a former KGB agent and Russian oligarch, before April 28.
However, the documents, which were finally released to MPs by the government on Thursday afternoon, are heavily redacted and contain no information whatsoever on the security advice received by Downing Street.
In an accompanying statement, the Paymaster General, Michael Ellis, described Lebedev as a “man of good standing” but insisted that further details must remain confidential in order to “protect national security”.
Labour accused the Government of a “cover up” and being in “contempt of Parliament.”
“This looks like a cover up and smells like a cover up because it is a cover up”, Labour’s Deputy Leader Angela Rayner said.
“The Government has not provided a single piece of information in these heavily redacted documents, failing to comply with a direct instruction from Parliament. The Government is once again seeking to hide in the shadows from the sunlight of scrutiny. We will take steps to rectify this contempt of Parliament.
“The public have a right to know the truth about Boris Johnson’s interference in the appointment of his friend Lord Lebedev, the son and business partner of an ex-KGB agent, to a seat in the heart of our Parliament. It is time to get to the bottom of this whole murky business.”
Asked by Labour’s Thangham Debbonaire on Thursday why the information, which the Government had been compelled to publish before the local elections, had remained unpublished until that point, the Leader of the House of Commons said there were “security challenges” that had delayed its publication.
“I think I can share with the House that there are a number of security challenges in that information which have been gone through in great detail,” Mark Spencer told MPs.
Evgeny Lebedev – whose full title is ‘Baron Lebedev of Hampton in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and of Siberia in the Russian Federation’ – owns the Evening Standard and Independent newspapers.
Correspondence revealed by Byline Times earlier this year showed how Lebedev built a relationship with Johnson over the course of a decade.
The letters show that Lebedev lobbied Johnson to support a new Russian arts festival while he was Mayor of London, which he said had “substantial support from the Russian Government”.
Johnson, who attended dozens of dinners, parties, drinks and meetings with Lebedev during that period also told the newspaper proprietor that he would “thrilled” to secure his support.
Johnson was later flown on multiple occasions for parties at Lebedev’s Italian villa, with the then Foreign Secretary ditching his security detail on at least one occasion in order to attend.
As Byline Times first revealed, Johnson was initially advised by UK security services not to hand a peerage to Lebedev.
However, the advice was later changed following a meeting between the two men. No minutes were recorded of their meeting and Downing Street has declined to reveal what they discussed.
The Home Secretary Priti Patel this week announced new legislation to clamp down on what she described as “covert spies” which seek to influence those in power in the UK.
Asked by Labour on Wednesday whether the new law would have criminalised Johnson’s meetings with Lebedev’s father Alexander, who was a former Russian agent, Patel replied that “I’m not going to comment on specific examples…”.