The government could be forced to reveal private advice over the appointment of Evgeny Lebedev to the House of Lords, amid evidence the security services had concerns about the peerage.
Labour will force a binding vote on releasing information about Boris Johnson’s involvement in the decision to award the peerage to the Evening Standard owner. Angela Rayner, the party’s deputy leader, will demand the information concerning the appointment from the Cabinet Office.
The Guardian revealed in October 2020 that Johnson met Lebedev in March, shortly before the House of Lords appointments commission, which scrutinises all nominations, wrote to the prime minister. It is understood to have expressed concerns about Lebedev’s proposed peerage and asked Downing Street to reconsider.
Peers were said to have had confidential briefing from the UK security services, which suggested the appointment was a potential security risk because of Lebedev’s father, Alexander Lebedev, a former KGB agent who worked undercover at the Soviet embassy in London.
Downing Street is then alleged to have sought further assurances from the security agencies. They provided extra context, which was enough to lead to a different outcome, and peers signed off the appointment.
Johnson has denied that he intervened to secure a peerage and Lebedev said in the aftermath of further reporting by the Sunday Times that he was not an “agent of Russia”.
Johnson’s former chief adviser Dominic Cummings said he was in the room when Cabinet Office officials told Johnson that the intelligence services and other parts of the deep state had “serious reservations about the PM’s plan”.
He said the prime minister stopped talking to him about the issue and “got a stooge to creep into the Cabinet Office labyrinth and cut a deal”.
Rayner will use the humble address approach used by Labour during the Brexit years to force the release of key documents. She will ask Steve Barclay, the chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, to submit to parliament all the information about the appointment process.
The government has previously told MPs to abstain on non-binding Labour motions – but the humble address technique has been legally binding in the past and may lead to the Tories whipping MPs to vote down the disclosure.
“This is an important matter of national security,” Rayner said. “The prime minister has allowed his friendship with the son and business partner of an ex-KGB agent to blind his primary duty to the British public – to keep them safe. The prime minister has once again put personal interest before the public’s, and this time he’s risked national security.
“The British public have a right to know if and how an individual of apparent concern to our intelligence services was granted a seat in the heart of our parliament by Boris Johnson, against security advice.”
The motion will say there are “concerns raised about the appropriateness of, and process for, appointing Lord Lebedev as a member of the House of Lords and the role of the prime minister in that process”.
It will request “any document held by the Cabinet Office or the prime minister’s office containing or relating to advice from, or provided to, the House of Lords Appointments Commission concerning the appointment of [Lebedev]”, including minutes, submissions and electronic communications, which could be texts or WhatsApp messages. The motion says redactions are permissible on grounds of national security.