Revoke Lebedev's access to parliament, Ian Blackford urges Lord Speaker
Pressure continues after reports of security concerns
EVENING Standard owner Lord Evgeny Lebedev must be banned from the Houses of Parliament, Ian Blackford has urged in a new letter.
Lebedev, the son of a former KGB agent, was given a peerage by the prime minister despite concerns reportedly being raised by the security services.
In a letter to the Lord Speaker, the SNP’s Westminster letter says Lebedev is “not a fit and proper person to act as a legislator nor a lobbyist in this democracy”.
The intervention comes after reports that security services withdrew their assessment that granting Lebedev a peerage posed a potential security risk after Johnson – who is under increasing pressure over his links to the businessman – intervened and approved his appointment.
The House of Lords Appointments Commission has not yet responded to requests to publish the vetting advice it provided to the PM in advance of the appointment.
The Scottish MP wrote that the PM had “forced through the appointment of his friend” and that security concerns over Lebedev’s “financial interests and political associations” have also been raised by Italian authorities.
According to the Sunday Times, the head of M16 raised fears about Lebedev a decade ago. The newspaper owner has previously defended Russian leader Vladimir Putin and cast doubts over Kremlin involvement in the murder of Alexander Litvinenko.
He joined the House of Lords in November 2020 as a crossbencher and has stated that he is “not a security risk to this country, which I love”. He has condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine and called upon Putin to withdraw from the country.
Blackford stated: “The depth of the concerns held by the security services is equally evidenced by media reports that the prime minister was advised by MI5 to end his close association and friendship with Lord Lebedev – a fact the prime minister is still refusing to confirm or deny.
“It is obvious that whilst these security concerns remain, Lord Lebedev is clearly not a fit and proper person to act as a legislator nor a lobbyist in this democracy. He should not therefore be in a position to maintain privileged access to the parliamentary estate.
“I am therefore proposing that Lord Lebedev’s access to the parliamentary estate is immediately removed and that his security pass is revoked.
“Until such time as full transparency, clarity and certainty is established regarding his national security status, I believe this is the only course that will act to protect our democracy.”
In a statement recently published on the Evening Standard website, Lebedev said: “Being Russian does not automatically make one an enemy of the state, and it is crucial we do not descend into Russiaphobia, like any other phobia, bigotry or discrimination.”
Lord McFall, the Lord Speaker, said there is “a case for examination of the appointments process, including a more robust vetting system and potentially stronger powers” for the House of Lords Appointments Commission.
He stated: “I would urge the government to look at this, drawing upon the work of those who have already taken extensive evidence on this and proposed sensible reforms. I am always open to engagement with the government on these matters.
“An examination of the appointments system is, however, just one element of what needs to be a bigger package of reform of the House of Lords, including reducing the size of the house and increasing the diversity of its members allowing us to reach out to all parts of the United Kingdom.”