Ministers have been urged to deploy the UK’s national security laws over the Barclay family’s UAE-backed bid to buy back the Telegraph newspaper.
MPs wrote to deputy prime minister Oliver Dowden, business secretary Kemi Badenoch and culture secretary Lucy Frazer asking them to investigate the sale and warning that the situation risks a “potential threat to press freedom”.
Lloyds Banking Group put the Telegraph Media Group (TMG) into receivership this year in a bid to retrieve its debts and the bank has since put titles, including the Spectator, up for sale.
The Barclays have since offered to repay their £1.1bn debt to Lloyds thanks to funds reportedly linked to Emirati royalty and RedBird IMI, headed by ex-CNN boss Jeff Zucker and part-backed by Abu Dhabi-based International Media Investments.
The letter, signed by Sir John Hayes, Sir Edward Leigh, Neil O’Brien, Tom Hunt, Nick Fletcher and peer Baroness Eaton, called on Dowden to ‘call in’ the transaction thanks to powers under the National Security and Investment Act (NSIA) 2021.
“You have the authority to ‘call-in’ transactions which, if carried into effect, could jeopardise national security,” they wrote.
“A foreign ruler, or a member of a family which rules another country, having control over one of our quality national newspapers, we believe, represents such a risk.”
“Clearly, this represents a potential threat to press freedom in this country,” the letter added.
The news emerged as a court hearing slated for Monday – which could have seen the Barclay family find a path to reclaiming control of the title – was adjourned.
A hearing – set to take place in the British Virgin Islands, according to Sky News – will be postponed while Lloyds consider the Barclay’s latest offer.
Potential other bidders also include the US billionaire and Republican donor Ken Griffin and hedge fund manager Paul Marshall, according to reports.
It comes after MPs O’Brien and Danny Kruger previously urged Frazer to issue a public interest intervention notice (PIIN) which would trigger Ofcom and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to look into public interest, jurisdiction and competition issues.
A spokesperson for the Barclay family commented: “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.”
The UK government has been approached for comment but did not immediately respond.