Labour has demanded the release of the Cabinet Office’s full guidance about a peerage for Evgeny Lebedev, the newspaper owner and son of a KGB spy, before Boris Johnson allegedly intervened to override security concerns of the intelligence agencies.
As the prime minister comes under continued pressure over his friendship with the Russian-born peer, Angela Rayner, the deputy Labour leader, called on the Cabinet Office to release the guidance it prepared for the House of Lords appointment commission before it was “sanitised”.
She said the guidance was crucial for the British public to understand how and why Johnson put Lebedev forward for a peerage, given that former No 10 aide Dominic Cummings has said that concerns were raised by the “deep state”.
Rayner is pressing for the release of more documents and Labour believes the guidance should be published in the national interest, redacting any parts relating to security. The party believes Johnson is on difficult ground on the issue, and is intending to keep up the pressure on the prime minister.
The prime minister has dismissed as “simply incorrect” reports that he tried to intervene to hand Lebedev a seat in the House of Lords and law-making powers for life against the advice of UK intelligence officers.
But 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”, citing similarities with his behaviour over attempts to get donors to pay for his flat refurbishment.
In a letter to Steve Barclay, the Cabinet Office minister, Rayner also demanded a review of how peerages are handled, following allegations that the prime minister was able to ask for intelligence concerns to be withdrawn.
“Given the central role of the Cabinet Office in the Lords appointment process, you have an urgent responsibility to review this case, establish the facts and clarify whether this is a one off case, or part of a wider issue of lax security for appointments in the House of Lords by this government.
In her letter to Barclay, Rayner said: “The Cabinet Office plays a central role in the vetting process of Lords appointments.
“Indeed, in Lord Lebedev’s case, Cabinet Office security officials were responsible for relaying intelligence and guidance to the House of Lords appointment commission, which formed the basis for their objections to his appointment. However, reports by the Sunday Times and a written statement by the then chief of staff to the prime minister allege that he “cut a deal” to provide the House of Lords appointments commission with a “sanitised” version of the advice …
“I urge you to publish the full guidance provided by the Cabinet Office to the House of Lords appointment commission in the Lebedev case, to ensure full transparency about the true risks of this appointment.”
Barclay’s spokesperson has been approached for comment.