A group of Conservative MPs have written to the government asking it to use the UK’s national security laws to investigate the Barclay family’s attempt to regain control of the Telegraph newspaper group with funding from Abu Dhabi.
MPs, including Edward Leigh, John Hayes and the life peer Margaret Eaton, have written to the deputy prime minister, Oliver Dowden, the business secretary, Kemi Badenoch, and the culture secretary, Lucy Frazer, questioning the use of overseas sovereign wealth to buy Telegraph Media Group, the Financial Times reported.
The Barclays had owned the group, which includes the Daily and Sunday Telegraph as well as the Spectator, since 2004 but Lloyds Banking Group took control of it in June after the family failed to reach an agreement over more than £1bn in unpaid debt. It has since been put up for sale by the bank in an auction run by Goldman Sachs.
Last month, the Barclay family tabled an offer valuing the newspaper group at £1bn in an attempt to deter rival bidders from challenging them before the auction. The family has secured financing from investors based in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, after talks that began in August.
The MPs said in the letter that they were concerned that investment vehicles with links to the UAE royal family “may soon gain control of or material influence over two of the most important media publications in Great Britain, the Telegraph and the Spectator”.
They argued that there “is a strong case for close scrutiny by the government under both the Enterprise Act 2002 and the National Security and Investment Act 2021”, especially if the offer involved taking the publications as security for the loan, “an amount which, by any sensible measure, the revenue of the publications will not be able to support”.
The MPs said in the letter: “Material influence over a quality national newspaper being passed to a foreign ruler at any time should raise concerns, but given the current geopolitical context, such a deal must be investigated. Clearly, this represents a potential threat to press freedom in this country, and given the position of influence that these publications hold, a risk of issues pertaining to national security not being reported accurately.”
The MPs said that the Barclay family deal could be investigated through a public interest intervention notice but the family pushed back against this.
In a statement, they said: “The Barclay family’s proposal to Lloyds Banking Group concerns the settlement of outstanding loans. There is no precedent and no basis for a PIIN being issued in relation to a debt transaction, and we are highly confident that the family’s proposal would not trigger any regulatory reviews regarding the ownership of the media assets.
“We continue to believe that our proposal offers Lloyds Banking Group and its shareholders the most compelling, straightforward and speedy resolution to this situation.”