Dominic Raab repeatedly refuses to comment on PM's relationship with Russian billionaire

6 March 2022, 12:47 | Updated: 7 March 2022, 13:58

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Dominic Raab today refused to be drawn on reports surrounding the peerage awarded by Boris Johnson to Russian billionaire businessman Evgeny Lebedev.

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Moscow-born Lord Lebedev - the son of oligarch and former KGB agent Alexander Lebedev - is said have only received a peerage after an intervention by the Prime Minister.

British intelligence officials had initially assessed that awarding him a peerage posed a national security risk, according to The Sunday Times.

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But the PM reportedly insisted the peerage "go through", complaining: "This is anti-Russian-ism."

Lord Lebedev told the newspaper that "all" of the allegations in its report were incorrect and the questions did not "merit an answer".

Asked about the report on LBC's Swarbrick on Sunday, Mr Raab said he didn't "accept" the report.

"I"m not going to comment about individual cases or intelligence, it would be improper of me to do so," the Deputy Prime Minister said.

He insisted there is "a very stringent and exacting set of requirements" in the awarding of a peerage, "and they were all followed".

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has demanded Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee investigate the Prime Minister over the gong.

Mr Johnson is said to have visited Lord Lebedev at his home just two days after the initial rejection of the peerage, in the weeks before the first Covid lockdown.

Pressed on why this meeting took place, Mr Raab again failed to offer clarity.

"You'd have to ask No10 that, I'm afraid I just don't know the veracity or the content of it," the Justice Secretary said.

Tom Swarbrick also raised a visit by Mr Johnson to the Lebedev family castle in Perguia, Italy, when he was Foreign Secretary in 2015.

Mr Raab again swerved giving a straight answer, saying he did not know "whether that's true, accurate or the context of it".

He added: "All I would say of course as foreign secretary I know what it's like, you're travelling all around the world and meeting a whole range of people, not just politicians."

Tom continued: "But you, as foreign secretary, would you really have ditched your security, flown abroad on your own and visited a Russian oligarch in private?"

Mr Raab said: "Look I didn't do anything of that nature but it's also not clear to me that what you've described is what happened in relation to the PM when he was foreign secretary."

Asked if he thought such a visit would be "odd", he added: "I don't know any of the context to it.

"Of course the truth is... Boris Johnson was Foreign Secretary at time of the nerve agent attack in Salisbury and he, with the Prime Minister at the time, rallied the world, not just our European and trans-Atlantic allies, to taking probably the toughest diplomatic and sanctions response to that so the Prime Minister has been incredibly robust on this."

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