Sir Keir Starmer has called for an investigation into the decision to grant Russian-born media mogul Lord Evgeny Lebedev a peerage, claiming it is a “matter of national security”.
The Labour leader’s comments come as the Sunday Times reported that security services withdrew an assessment that granting a peerage to the Moscow-born son of an ex-KGB agent posed a national security risk after the prime minister personally intervened.
Speaking on the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme, Sir Keir said he was “very concerned” about the reports surrounding Lord Lebedev and insisted the case should be referred to the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC).
He said: “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.
“This allegation – which is very serious because, of course, it’s a matter of national security – I hope the government will answer it today.”
He added: “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.”
Boris Johnson's relationship with Lord Lebedev - who owns newspapers the London Evening Standard and the Independent - has come under significant criticism for much of his political life.
While London mayor and foreign secretary Mr Johnson visited Lord Lebedev's mansion in Italy every year to attend luxurious parties.When it was announced Lord Lebedev would be given a peerage, the government came under significant criticism and faced accusations of cronyism.
His official title is Baron Lebedev, of Hampton in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and of Siberia in the Russian Federation.
The justice secretary defended the government's decision to give Evgeny Lebedev a peerage
Dominic Raab, speaking to the BBC, suggested the newspaper owner went through a “very strict and stringent” process when he was granted his peerage.
The deputy PM said he did not know the facts of the case but claimed the peerage appointment process had been “applied very rigorously”.
He said: “There is a strict and stringent process when anyone is granted a peerage. I don’t know the facts of the case, I wasn’t involved in it. 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.”
Commenting on the reports, Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said the prime minister’s “disregard” for the facts is a “threat to us all”.
She said: “By dismissing the intelligence services’ advice and disrespecting officials, the prime minister has once again put personal interest before the public’s. And this time he’s risked national security.
Lord Lebedev told the Sunday Times that “all” of the allegations in its report were incorrect and the questions did not “merit an answer”.
Last week, the media mogul appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin to stop the invasion of Ukraine, through the Evening Standard newspaper.
The cross-bench peer said: “I plead with you to use today’s negotiations to bring this terrible conflict in Ukraine to an end.”
In a statement published alongside a photograph of a paramedic performing CPR on a girl injured by shelling, Lord Lebedev said: “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.
“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. As a Russian patriot I plead that you prevent any more young Russian soldiers from dying needlessly. As a citizen of the world I ask you to save the world from annihilation.”