Boris Johnson was tipped off about awarding a peerage to his close friend Evgeny Lebedev two years ago by British intelligence.
According to a Sunday Times report, the M16 chief had security concerns about the Russian oligarch, who previously defended Vladimir Putin and expressed misgivings about the assassination of a Kremlin critic in London a decade ago.
Opposition Leader Sir Keir Starmer expressed alarm at the allegations in the article and said he had written to the chairman of the House of Lords Appointments Committee, Lord Brew, to express concern about the Prime Minister’s decision. to grant a noble title to Lord Lebedev.
Speaking to the PA news agency, the Labor leader questioned Johnson’s judgment for nominating to the House of Lords “someone who has promoted the worst conspiracy theories and defenses of Vladimir Putin.”
Sir Keir, former Director of Public Prosecutions, accused the prime minister of ignoring the security service’s “serious reservations” about Lord Lebedev.
He added: “My thoughts in particular are with (the widow of poisoned Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko) Marina Litvinenko, who knows Putin’s ills firsthand.
“Instead of sympathizing with her, the prime minister forced her to watch him award a peerage to someone who suggested her husband might have been murdered by MI6.”
Earlier this week, Johnson denied intervening to override security concerns over Lord Lebedev’s peerage, telling reporters: “That’s just wrong… It suits Putin’s agenda to try to characterize this as a struggle between the West and Russia”.
Lord Lebedev, owner of Britain’s The Independent and Evening Standard newspapers, has also rejected accusations that he is an “agent of Russia” over claims that a security services assessment that the media mogul posed a risk for national security was withdrawn after Johnson’s intervention.
In response to allegations that surfaced last week that he had been identified as a national security risk before the prime minister withdrew the assessment, he acknowledged that his father had been a KGB officer but that it was “a long time ago”. .
In a statement published on the Evening Standard website, Lord Lebedev said: “Many people with Russian roots are under scrutiny right now, including myself.
“I understand the reason for this, as it is inevitable when events of such magnitude occur and the world order as we have known it for the last few decades is suddenly broken.
“But I am not a risk to the security of this country, which I love. My father was a KGB foreign intelligence agent a long time ago, but I am not a Russian agent.
“I may have a Russian name, but that doesn’t make me a less committed and proud British citizen than anyone else in this country of ours.
“Being Russian does not automatically make you an enemy of the state, and it is crucial that we do not fall into Russophobia, like any other phobia, intolerance or discrimination.”
The Moscow-born media mogul has long maintained ties to the British establishment. As well as the Prime Minister, Lord Lededev has long-standing friendships with A-list celebrities in the UK.