We have explored the links between Boris Johnson and Russian money more than once on this website. But yesterday an astonishing series of allegations were published in the Times by Gabriel Pogrund. These claims go beyond the stench of Russian influence that has hung around Johnson. In my view, they point to actions that could undermine national security.
So what happened? Surely Boris Johnson can’t have undermined National Security?
The story starts in 2013 with a growing friendship between Lebedev (the son of a KGB spy) and Boris Johnson, who was then Mayor of London. It appears that at the time security officials were concerned that Lebedev was seeking to build closer links to the establishment. This included repeated attempts to meet with key government officials, such as Sir John Sawers (then Chief of MI6). Boris Johnson’s team were warned repeatedly about the security risk that Lebedev represented, but that did not stop him. Over the next few years he would receive an exorbitant amount of gifts from Lebedev. This included holidays, private flights and luxury dinners.
Before we continue with Gabriel’s story, I am going to bring in the work of Carole Cadwalladr. Carole has been the sole voice decrying Russian influence at the highest levels for years. This has come at considerable professional and personal cost to her. Carole posted an excellent thread outlining her thoughts on Twitter earlier today, but the operative part that I am going to focus in on is below:
It seems clear that this explosive paragraph indicates that Boris Johnson met with an ex-KGB spy in the wake of a Russian chemical weapon attack on British soil. This happened behind closed doors. What was discussed we will never know, because the police never investigated. By the time the revelations became public, Boris Johnson was already PM. This is is where we rejoin Gabriel’s thread.
Upon becoming PM, Boris Johnson immediately sought to bring Lebedev into the House of Lords. When the vetting panel raised concerns, he allegedly rejected them and asked for a specific reason why he couldn’t ennoble his friend. When no legal obstruction was offered, it appears he proceeded against the advice of our intelligence agencies.
What does all this mean?
I’m not clear what the advice was supposed to have said. Evidently, neither is Kier Starmer who has asked for the advice to be made public. This is not something that would normally happen, but clearly there is a major public interest angle.
Whether they release the advice or not, it seems clear that there is nothing regular about this appointment. It’s very likely that this is just the tip of the iceberg.
A whirlwind of stories about this relationship have come to light over the last few days. Accusations that Lebedev acted as a back channel between Putin and Johnson were published in the Byline times. Another story has also resurfaced from the heady days of Brexit. Boris Johnson appears to have made his controversial decision to back Brexit after a dinner with Lebedev and Gove. As the extent of Russian influence on Brexit becomes more and more apparent, one has to ask if this is really a coincidence?
What is certainly beyond doubt is that Lebedev has wielded the vast power of his media empire to throw his weight behind Boris Johnson. It is not unreasonable to ask why.