Tories ‘bending the rules’ after missing deadline for publishing Lebedev advice

Ministers have been accused of “bending the rules to dodge scrutiny” after Downing Street missed the deadline for publishing the security advice it received about granting Evgeny Lebedev a peerage.

MPs voted last month for the material to be released after reports that MI5 raised security concerns when the Evening Standard owner and son of a KGB officer was nominated by Boris Johnson to join the House of Lords in March 2020.

Labour used an opposition day in the Commons to table a “humble address” – a type of motion that forces the government to release documents that was rarely used until a few years ago.

Conservative whips were initially expected to order their MPs to vote against the move, all but ensuring it would fail – but a sizeable number of rebels made clear they were not prepared to do so, forcing the government to allow abstentions.

The deadline for publishing the advice about Lord Lebedev’s peerage was 28 April.

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But the Cabinet Office minister admitted after parliament was prorogued in preparation for the Queen’s speech that work retracting some bits of information had not been finished.

Michael Ellis claimed redactions needed to be made “for the purposes of national security”, which he said was “a consideration which is of upmost importance given the government’s responsibility to protect information when disclosure is not in the public interest”.

The minister said the government was also “giving considerations to other principles, such as the need to protect the data of private individuals, communications with Her Majesty and also to the conferring by the crown of any honour or dignity”.

He confirmed all the security services’ advice “has now been collated” but said that “all necessary considerations” had not been completed and that he regretted missing the deadline.

Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, claimed that by failing to release the documents, the government was “once again bending the rules to dodge scrutiny”.

She said: “This last-minute delay just kicks the can further down the road, and has all the hallmarks of a government with something to hide.

“If the prime minister wasn’t involved in forcing through the appointment of an individual of concern to our intelligence services, why won’t he come clean and publish the guidance in full, as parliament voted for?”

Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s former chief adviser, said last month that he was in the room when Cabinet Office officials told Johnson the intelligence services had “serious reservations about the PM’s plan”.

Johnson has previously denied he intervened to secure a peerage, and Lebedev said that he was not an “agent of Russia”.


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