Government officials asked if the late Queen blocks Evgeny Lebedev’s peerage due to concerns that he could be a national security risk due to his father’s links to the Putin regime, a documentary claims.
Aides contacted Buckingham Palace in July 2020 to ask the monarch to intervene, which she has the constitutional right to do, after Boris Johnson decided to keep the controversial peerage despite warnings from intelligence agencies, according to to the film makers.
The Palace is understood to have refused, fearing the irregular request would drag the Queen into controversial political matters, and her elevation to the House of Lords as Baron Lebedev of Hampton and Siberia continues in December.
The Guardian first reported in October 2020 that UK security services had informed the House of Lords Appointments Commission (Holac), which examines the nomination of new peers, that Lebedev was considered a potential national security risk because of his father, Alexander Lebedev, a billionaire oligarch.
Although they did not say Evgeny himself was a danger, they raised his father’s ongoing relationship with the Kremlin, according to the Channel 4 documentary Boris, the Lords & the Russian Spy: Dispatches.
Two intelligence officers were invited to Downing Street to brief Johnson personally about their security concerns in spring 2020, according to the documentary. Officials took the unusual step of contacting the palace, it said.
Lord Clark, a Labor peer and Holac member who scrutinized Lebedev’s nomination, said Johnson was “so determined” to “get his own way”, that he “threatened” the usual conventions and ” attempted overrule – and breached” security advisors and Holac.
Speaking publicly for the first time about the nomination, he said it was unprecedented for a No 10 to ask the Queen to intervene. “I have not heard of officials seeking a meeting with Her Majesty to discuss these issues,” he said.
“We must remember these people [officials], they know things that you and I, do not know. So they have knowledge. They are really worried about it. They thought it was a big, big mistake. “
Johnson has struggled with Lords appointments since being forced out of Downing Street last year, with just seven of the names from the original 16 on his controversial list of peerage resignations.
Clark said of Lebedev’s peers: “All other prime ministers generally followed conventions. Boris Johnson is very determined to have his own way.
“And that threatens the whole idea of the conventions that make the British government work. And it’s a real threat. He ignores the constitution, and that’s a dangerous position.
He added: “He tried to overrule – and overruled – the security advisers and the House of Lords Appointments Commission. The whole point of [Holac] is actually to try and give the civil population a real say in the safety, their safety, of the country.
A Johnson spokesman told the Guardian: “Boris Johnson fully supports the appointment of Lord Lebedev. As the government has previously confirmed, Holac and security advice were not overruled. The correct process was followed. As it explains program, there are no worries about Lord Lebedev.
“Lord Lebedev is a British citizen. He invested in British journalism and widely criticized the Russian regime. It is not right to judge people based on their country of birth or the sound of their last name. This is a tiresome and xenophobic campaign. “
However, Lord Bew, the chair of Holac, confirmed last year that MI5 had raised security concerns when Lebedev, who owns the Evening Standard and Independent newspapers but made his fortune from his father, proposed for a peerage in March 2020.
A further update in June later concluded, according to the Sunday Times, that any security risk associated with the newspaper’s owner would be minimal, as peers would not always see those classified as government documents.
A letter from Lord Bew to Johnson the following month, which was seen by the film-makers, said: “The security services have highlighted great risks in relation to the nominee’s family relationships, and the possible vulnerability of any information obtained by the nominee. from his association with UK officials or government.”
Dominic Cummings, the former No 10 aide, said in March 2022 that he was in the room when Johnson was told about the “serious reservations” that “parts of the deep state” had about his plan to give Lebedev is a peerage, and that Johnson has resisted anger.
In a controversial break with the introduction, Johnson decided to continue with Lebedev’s proposed peerage regardless. He argued that, since there was no evidence linking Lord Lebedev himself to the Putin regime or Russian intelligence, it could go ahead.
A spokesman for Lord Lebedev told the makers of the documentary: “He is familiar with security advice and understands that no such attempt has been made by the security services to persuade the PM to withdraw the nomination.”
Lebedev has previously said that he is “not a security risk to this country, which I love”, and recently issued a statement through one of the newspapers he owns, the Evening Standard, where he dismissed the “ridiculous” speculation as Russophobia.
Alexander Lebedev, a KGB spy in London between 1988 and 1992, was extradited to Canada in May 2022, along with 13 other Russian oligarchs, for allegedly facilitating “senseless” extortion. Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine.
The documentary says that Canada’s decision to punish Lebedev was partly based on intelligence that, its makers understood, came from MI6, although the British government did not itself impose sanctions on the former KGB officer.
Dennis Molinaro, a Canadian former national security analyst, told the film-makers that he thought it was possible that Lebedev “has some kind of connection to the Kremlin and to Putin and deserves to be sanctioned by Canada … It’s extraordinary.” for the Canadian government to make a decision about allowing a person into the UK without some information on that individual from the UK.
“It is not clear why at the political level [in the UK], nothing was done in terms of allowing him. My concern is based on Alexander’s history in the UK, that he has engaged in some level of influence operations in the UK.
“When you have politicians who can be compromised by foreign states, it can lead to sharing secrets. It can lead to the management of policy in their interest. It can lead to the disintegration of an alliance that the west relies on to maintain of the current international order and system. If that happens, we won’t have much left.”
Alexander Lebedev has been approached for comment. Buckingham Palace declined to comment.
Boris, the Lord & the Russian Spy: Dispatches airs on Tuesday 27 June at 10pm on Channel 4 and channel4.com