We should not be surprised that Dominic Raab has emitted a flurry of falsehoods in defence of Evgeny Lebedev’s elevation to the House of Lords.
His prime minister, Boris Johnson, has been accused of creating a security risk to the UK by letting the son of a former Russian KGB agent have access to Parliamentary documents via the front door.
So Raab appeared on the BBC’s Sunday Morning Programme spouting a lot of nonsense that “There is a very strict and stringent process when anyone is granted a peerage” and that the rules around the honours process were “applied very rigorously in this case. This was done properly and correctly and we have procedures and systems in place to make sure it is.”
It is possible that he was right in all these statements but they are nonsense because the procedures he described do not prevent people who are a huge security risk from being granted a peerage.
We know about this because The Guardian told us, back in October 2020 [boldings mine]:
Two days before Johnson met Lebedev in March [he did this on March 19, right after telling us all to stay in our homes because of Covid-19, so this happened on March 17], the House of Lords appointments commission (Holac), 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.
The commission, made up of cross-party peers, carries out “propriety checks” on candidates. It does not have the power of veto. But it can suggest that a party come up with an alternative, which is what is understood to have happened in Lebedev’s case.
Peers were apparently alarmed following a confidential briefing from the UK security services. They told the commission Lebedev was viewed as a potential security risk because of his father, Alexander Lebedev, a one-time Moscow spy. During the late cold war period, Lebedev Sr worked undercover at the Soviet embassy in London. His real employer was KGB foreign intelligence.
In reality, the security risk has been defined as low – because peers do not see classified documents.
But in reluctantly accepting Johnson’s insistence on ennobling the Russian-born son of a spy, Holac allegedly called on Johnson to examine Russian influence in the House of Lords, something highlighted by parliament’s intelligence and security committee in its Russia Report.
And the security services said Lebedev’s “family links” meant he was still regarded as a potential concern.
So Keir Starmer’s call for Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee to review all the reports on Lord Lebedev that Holac saw seemed entirely reasonable and proportionate.
Downing Street’s claim that “all peerages are vetted by the House of Lords Appointments Commission” fails to acknowledge that Holac can’t veto an appointment, which always remains within the gift of the prime minister. Neither does Raab’s.
So these government representatives, it seems, are deceiving us about their treatment of a potential Russian security risk at a time of high international tensions between the UK and Russia. Fit to lead?
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