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Block Telegraph sale to Abu Dhabi-backed company, says David Davis

David Davis said The Telegraph ‘is one of the most important newspapers in the country’
David Davis said The Telegraph ‘is one of the most important newspapers in the country’ - Jamie Lorriman

Ministers should block the sale of The Telegraph to a company backed by Abu Dhabi’s ruling family, a former Cabinet minister has said.

David Davis, a senior Tory MP warned the Government that it would be able to “do nothing to protect” the title’s independence if the deal went ahead.

He said the Telegraph’s “massive influence” during general elections and Conservative leadership contests means it should not be foreign-owned.

Mr Davis made the remarks three days after Lucy Frazer, the Culture Secretary, triggered a public interest investigation into the sale. Speaking to Camilla Tominey on GB News, the former Brexit Secretary urged Ms Frazer to go further by putting a halt to the planned takeover.

He said: “I just think it’s wrong. We shouldn’t normally, in my view, allow people who are outside the reach of our country to own major newspapers.

“The Telegraph is one of the most important newspapers in the country. It has massive influence both at elections and on people’s general views. And indeed, when there are Tory party leadership contests, as may happen in the next few years, then they have a massive influence there too.

“Why should we give that power to the Emirates? In this case a country which, in the past, has not exactly treated press freedom with any sort of respect.”

Lucy Frazer leaves the Cabinet meeting at Downing Street on November 14, 2023
Lucy Frazer, the Culture Secretary, issued a statement last Thursday announcing that she was triggering a Public Interest Intervention Notice surrounding the planned sale - LEON NEAL/GETTY/GETTY

He also raised the issue of women’s rights in the UAE, adding: “There are all sorts of areas where it clashes with what I’d think of as the national interest.”

Asked whether he thought Rishi Sunak and the Government should step in and “stop” the sale, he replied: “Yes, in my view absolutely.”

Mr Davis said that ministers should learn from what happened when The Times was sold to Rupert Murdoch, the Australian media tycoon, in 1981.

He said: “At that time there were conditions put upon it and those conditions were broken and there was nothing we could do about it.

“We were told that the editor of The Times would be independent. Eventually one of them got sacked and we could do nothing about it. The same would apply with the Emirates. Frankly, we could do nothing to protect it.”

Mr Davis’s intervention comes after a group of senior Tory MPs urged ministers to intervene over the deal, warning it had serious national security implications.

Both The Telegraph and The Spectator are up for sale and are subject to the Abu Dhabi-backed takeover bid, which has led to concerns over national security.

Public Interest Intervention Notice triggered

Lloyds Banking Group took control of Telegraph Media Group, the titles’ parent company, in June from the Barclay family over an outstanding debt.

The family is pursuing a £1.2 billion deal to hand over control of the titles to RedBird IMI, a fund backed by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the UAE vice-president.

Ms Frazer issued a statement on Thursday announcing that she was triggering a Public Interest Intervention Notice surrounding the planned sale. It means both Ofcom, the media watchdog, and the Competition and Markets Authority will look into potential issues surrounding the deal.

Ms Frazer added that she reserved “the right to take such further action…as I consider appropriate” including personally intervening in the deal.

RedBird IMI said any sale would be “subject to regulatory review” and it would “continue to cooperate fully with the Government and the regulator”.

In a statement it added: “Redbird IMI are entirely committed to maintaining the existing editorial team at The Telegraph and The Spectator publications and believe that editorial independence for these titles is essential to protecting their reputation and credibility.”

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