Minister Ties Himself In Knots Defending PM's Decision To Make Son Of Russian Oligarch A Lord

James Cleverly claimed that Evgeny Lebedev does not vote in the House of Lords – just like many of his colleagues.
Boris Johnson, Evgeny Lebedev and James Cleverly
Boris Johnson, Evgeny Lebedev and James Cleverly

James Cleverly’s attempts to defend the decision to make Russian-born businessman Evgeny Lebedev a Lord raised more questions than answers on Monday.

The Europe minister was trying to protect Boris Johnson following damaging weekend reports that he had ignored security concerns and chose to make Lebedev a peer in 2020.

BBC Radio 4 host, Nick Robinson, asked Cleverly on the Today programme: “Why did Boris Johnson nominate the son of a former KGB officer and a Russian oligarch, Evengy Lebedev, why did he think he was qualified to make the laws in this country as a member of the House of Lords?”

Cleverly said Lebedev is a joint British national and a businessman, pointing out that the Lords was made up of people with a whole range of backgrounds.

Robinson replied: “Are you aware of a former KGB officer’s son being in the House of Lords before?”

Cleverly said: “Hang on, my father was a former chartered surveyor but I’m not, so what your father did for work is, I’m not completely sure, totally relevant.”

“I’m not sure that’s a direct parallel is it, in terms of national security, although I take your point that we can’t be held responsible for what our fathers did,” the journalist replied.

“The point is, there is always due diligence done on the people in the House of Lords,” Cleverly said. “I just think we need to be a little bit careful suggesting or implying that everyone of Russia origin is somehow inappropriate to step into public life.”

Lebedev did make a statement in the Evening Standard – which he owns – last week, condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine and Russian president Vladimir Putin.

However, Robinson also pointed out: “He’s [Lebedev] not voted. He’s not taken part in a debate.

“What was the point, what was the value, in Boris Johnson apparently initially ignoring the advice that he should not have been in the House of Lords, deciding that he belonged in the lawmaking chamber of British parliament?”

Cleverly replied by seemingly undermining the Lords altogether.

“The point is there are lots of members of the House of Lords who are not active members of the House of Lords.

“I think it rather flies in the face of the accusation that he somehow distorts the face of British politics if he’s not voting on British laws.

“The point is, that is something a lot of members of the House of Lords either do or don’t do.”

“So he’s just there for the title?” Robinson asked.

Cleverly ignored that, and said recommendations are made to the prime minister who then makes the final call.

The Radio 4 presenter concluded, “let’s be clear about that, it’s his [Boris Johnson’s] final decision,” before ending the interview.

The entire government has come under fire for not coming down hard enough on its own links to Russia through sanctions.

The Tory party has also received almost £2 million in donations from people linked to Russia since Johnson became prime minister in 2019.


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