Conservative MPs called on the UK government to use its national security laws to investigate attempts by the Barclay Family to regain control of the Telegraph Newspaper Group using Abu Dhabi-funded funding.
Five Tory MPs including Edward Leigh, John Hayes and Kemi Bademoht, wrote to Oliver Dowden, the deputy prime minister, to question the use of foreign sovereign wealth for the purchase of the UK national paper.
The Daily Telegraph has traditionally been the paper most closely aligned with the Conservative Party. Boris Johnson had written a weekly article for the broadsheet even before he was appointed Prime Minister, which caused some concern about its future ownership by Tory MPs.
In an auction, the Lloyds Banking Group has put Media Group up for sale after placing it in receivership earlier this year.
The Barclay family has recently offered to repay the entire PS1.1bn outstanding debt. The debt would be provided by a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family and RedBird IMI. This investment vehicle is headed by former CNN chief Jeff Zucker, with part backing from Abu Dhabi-based International Media Investments.
The deal will include an option for Redbird IMI to convert its debt into shares of the group. This would allow the British newspaper to control the fund.
The letter from the MPs expressed concern that the Emirati royal family’s investment vehicles “may soon control or have a material influence on two of Britain’s most important media outlets, The Telegraph and The Spectator”.
The government should be closely scrutinized under the Enterprise Act of 2002 as well as the National Security & Investment Act 2021, especially if they are offering to take the publications in exchange for a loan that “the revenue from the publications cannot support”, according to the argument.
This is the first time Tory MPs specifically question the Barclays’ ties to Abu Dhabi rather than simply warn about foreign influence on the acquisition of the Newspaper Group.
The MPs wrote that “material influence over a national newspaper of high quality being given to a foreign leader at any time is a cause for concern, but in light of the current geopolitical situation, such an agreement must be investigated.”
“This is a clear threat to the press freedom of this country and, given their influence, there’s a danger that issues related to national security will not be reported accurately.” This letter was also signed by Conservative MP Margaret Eaton.
The concerns of parliamentarians will have little impact on the decision made by Lloyds regarding the future publication, given that the family has the legal right to pay the debts.
The family will have more time to negotiate with Lloyds after a court hearing next week to liquidate the holding company that sits over the group.
The bank will need to verify the funds and the family must find the money. If the family can pay the full amount of the debt, the auction will stop.
MPs claim that the Barclay Family Deal could be investigated by a public intervention notice.
The Barclay family, however, said that “there is no precedent or basis for an [public interest intervention] notice to be issued in relation a debt transaction and we are very confident that the Barclay proposal will not trigger any regulatory review regarding ownership of media assets.”