Angela Rayner has accused ministers of a “cover-up” over the peerage awarded to Evgeny Lebedev after the government withheld key documents relating to his appointment to the House of Lords.
The deputy Labour leader criticised the government for failing to comply with a ‘humble address’ motion put forward by Labour in March, which called for the disclosure of documents relating to Lebedev’s appointment.
Rayner said: “This looks like a cover-up and smells like a cover-up because it is a cover-up. If the Prime Minister is claiming he was not involved in forcing through the award of a peerage to an individual of concern to our intelligence services, he should come clean and publish the documents as parliament instructed.
“The government has not provided a single piece of information in these heavily redacted documents, failing to comply with a direct instruction from parliament. The government is once again seeking to hide in the shadows from the sunlight of scrutiny. We will take steps to rectify this contempt of parliament.
“The public have a right to know the truth about Boris Johnson’s interference in the appointment of his friend Lord Lebedev, the son and business partner of an ex-KGB agent, to a seat in the heart of our parliament. It is time to get to the bottom of this whole murky business.”
The government today published several documents relating to Lebedev’s appointment, most of which were already in the public domain. The documents were accompanied by a written ministerial statement from Michael Ellis, in which the paymaster general described Lebedev as a “man of good standing”.
Ellis wrote that the government “remains committed to openness and transparency to ensure that parliament is able to scrutinise and hold the executive to account”.
But he added: “It is also the case that when considering requests for information from parliament, the government has a responsibility to consider whether it is in the public interest to place information into the public domain.”
“The disclosure of these documents reflects the need to protect national security, to maintain integrity in the system for the awarding of honours and dignities by the crown, the vetting of nominees for probity and the data protection rights of individuals,” Ellis wrote.
He noted that the government has sent a “separate” response to parliament’s intelligence and security committee, following a request from the committee for information “relating to any national security matters arising”.
The Sunday Times reported in March that intelligence officials withdrew an assessment concluding that the Lebedev peerage posed a national security risk after an intervention by the Prime Minister, who reportedly described concerns as “anti-Russianism”. Johnson has denied intervening.
Lord Bew, who chairs the House of Lords Appointment Committee, has also denied there was any interference, saying last month: “There was no pressure on this issue from No 10 or the Prime Minister.”
Lebedev owns the Evening Standard and The Independent and derives his wealth from his father Alexander Lebedev, a billionaire oligarch and ex-KGB agent. He has denied posing a “security risk” to the UK and said he has “nothing to hide”.