Dowden warned over ‘potential national security threat’ in Telegraph takeover

Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden arriving at the Cabinet Office in Westminster
Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden arriving at the Cabinet Office in Westminster

Oliver Dowden is being urged to intervene in an Abu Dhabi-backed takeover of The Telegraph on national security grounds.

More than a dozen Conservative MPs have written to the Deputy Prime Minister warning of a “very real potential national security threat” if the deal goes ahead.

Lloyds Banking Group, which took control of The Telegraph and The Spectator in June from the Barclay family, is pursuing a £1.2bn deal to hand over control of the titles to RedBirdIMI, a fund backed by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the UAE vice-president.

The MPs wrote: “During a time of increased geopolitical tensions, information warfare is more relevant than ever – and with the UAE’s increasingly influential position as a mediator and power-broker, the risk for interference in Britain’s national conversation seems self-evident if the acquisition is allowed to go ahead at the end of this week.”

The letter, which has been signed by MPs including Neil O’Brien, Alicia Kearns and Sir Iain Duncan Smith, will increase pressure on the Government to review the deal after a similar warning was made by Lord Hague earlier this week.

The former leader of the Conservative Party described the proposed takeover as “disturbing” and one that “should be prevented”.

American businessman and former President of CNN Jeff Zucker
Jeff Zucker, who is fronting the deal, said he would resign if Abu Dhabi attempted to interfere in editorial policy - Clara Molden for The Daily Telegraph

Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer has said she is minded to issue a Public Interest Intervention Notice (PIIN), which would trigger regulatory scrutiny of the bid.

This could be issued before the end of the week after it emerged on Wednesday that Ms Frazer is set to be given notice of the Barclay family’s intention to repay a £1.16bn loan.

However, 18 Tory MPs are urging the Government to use its powers under the National Security and Investment Act to intervene.

The legislation allows ministers to impose conditions on deals or even block acquisitions that they deem vital to the UK’s national security.

They pointed to similar moves by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which is reviewing a number of deals involving UAE funds amid concerns about its close links to China.

The MPs wrote: “The influence [the takeover] would give to a foreign government that is strengthening its relationship with Beijing at a time of growing tensions is even more troubling.”

The takeover approach has been made by RedBirdIMI, a joint venture between the US private equity firm Redbird Capital and International Media Investments (IMI).

The swoop is fronted by Jeff Zucker, the former boss of CNN.

In an interview with The Telegraph this week, Mr Zucker said the group would ensure editorial independence, adding that he would resign if Abu Dhabi ever attempted to interfere.

He said: “I understand why people have raised questions. All I can say is, they’re misplaced. I am here to say that the editorial independence of The Telegraph is guaranteed.”

The RedBird IMI boss is in London this week and has met with Government officials in a bid to reassure them about the takeover.

Lloyds, which seized control of The Telegraph and The Spectator in June, has set a deadline of the end of the week for completing the transaction.

However, the MPs urged the Prime Minister not to be “railroaded” into clearing the deal, calling instead for a pause so it could be fully reviewed.

Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 1 month, then enjoy 1 year for just $9 with our US-exclusive offer.