SIR Keir Starmer has demanded to know more about the vetting of a Russian-born millionaire given a peerage by Boris Johnson despite security fears. 

The Labour leader said the Prime Minister had “serious questions” to answer about Evgeny Lebedev, whose father is an oligarch and former KGB agent.

The Sunday Times reported the security services had concerns about Mr Lebedev, who owns the Independent and Evening Standard, as far back as 2013.

The paper also reported the then head of MI6, John Sawers, refused to meet Mr Lebedev.

However Mr Lebedev, a close ally of Mr Johnson, was ennobled regardless in December 2020. He has made just one speech since in the Lords, in May 2021.

Sir Keir said he had written to the Lords appointments commission to provide the advice it gave Mr Johnson when he nominated Mr Lebedev for a peerage.

He said he understood the commission traditionally did not so ”but reports of the political views, personal links, and financial interests of Lord Lebedev are deeply troubling”.

The Prime Minister has denied ignoring security concerns about Mr Lebedev, who entertained Mr Johnson at his Italian castle when he was foreign secretary.

Lord Lebedev, 41, who became a crossbench peer in 2020, acknowledged on Friday that his father, the Russian billionaire Alexander Lebedev, had been a KGB agent “a long time ago”.

However he denied being “a security risk to this country, which I love”.

Mr Gove today defended the award of the peerage, and denied anyone had raised any security concerns with him about it.

He admitted dining with Mr Lebedev at Mr Johnson’s house before the Brexit referendum.

The Levelling Up Secretary told the BBC the process for peerages was “rigorous”.

He said: “I think it’s important to draw a distinction between Evgeny Lebedev’s father, who obviously, as you pointed out, worked for the KGB, and Lord Lebedev himself, who is someone who has made his home in this country.

“Of course, there are questions that are going to be asked, but no one has ever said to me that there are any specific security concerns that they have about Lord Lebedev.”

Asked if Mr Johnson behaved foolishly over the peerage, he said: “No, I don’t think so.”

Mr Gove also told Sky News: “I’ve met Lord Lebedev, as the Prime Minister has. At no point did anyone ever say to me that it would be inappropriate to meet him and to talk to him.”

However Sir Keir said: “Let’s have a process to look into what actually happened, what did the Prime Minister know and what did he do in response to that. I think that is the least we are entitled to in relation to this appointment.”

He added: “Of course, we shouldn’t just demonise people from Russia, I completely agree with that, but that isn’t the Lebedev case.

“The media today are saying there were further reservations by the security and intelligence services which were known before this appointment was made and we know that concerns were raised apparently with the Prime Minister.

“In light of the further revelations today, I think the Prime Minister has got serious questions to answer: What did he know? And did he override security advice?”

Speaking at his party's spring conference today, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey called for a full public inquiry into the PM's decision to give Lord Lebedev a peerage.

He told activists: "The cosy relationship between Putin's oligarchs and the Conservative political elite has been the dirty secret of the British establishment for far too long."

Mr Gove also clarified reports that he was planning to seize the homes of oligarchs who have been placed under sanctions in order to house refugees.

He said: “I want to explore an option that would allow us to use the homes and properties of sanctioned individuals, for as long as they are sanctioned, for humanitarian and other purposes.”

He acknowledged there was a “quite a high legal bar to cross”, however, and said even if it did go ahead, it would not mean “permanent confiscation” of the properties involved. 

“While you are not using or profiting from it, if we can use it in order to help others, let’s do that,” he told BBC One’s Sunday Morning programme.