Tory MPs Claim Sale of Telegraph to UAE Investment Vehicle is ‘National Security Threat’

Eighteen Conservative MPs write to the deputy prime minister, Oliver Dowden, to protest at the sale of the Telegraph media group to RedBird IMI.
Tory MPs Claim Sale of Telegraph to UAE Investment Vehicle is ‘National Security Threat’
Photo illustration coverage of the State Funeral of Queen Elizabeth II on the front page of The Daily Telegraph newspaper on Sept. 20, 2022. (Rob Pinney/Getty Images)
Chris Summers
11/30/2023
Updated:
11/30/2023

Eighteen Conservative MPs have written to the deputy prime minister, Oliver Dowden, urging him to “pause” the sale of the Daily Telegraph newspaper to an investment fund owned by the vice-president of the United Arab Emirates, which they say is a “potential national security threat.”

In the letter, the MPs—led by former Health Minister Neil O’Brien—called on Mr. Dowden to use powers he has under the National Security and Investment Act, which can prevent the sale of infrastructure and other key assets to entities controlled by other countries.

The letter, co-signed by the former Tory Party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith and the chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Alicia Kearns, said the UAE had, “increasingly close relations with China.”

The Telegraph Media Group was bought by twin billionaire brothers David and Frederick Barclay in June 2004.

Lloyds inherited a hefty loan to the Barclay brothers in 2008, when it took over the doomed HBOS bank during the financial crisis, and the debt had risen to £1 billion.

David Barclay died in 2021 and his 89-year-old brother, Frederick, left the running of the group to his nephews, Aidan and Howard.

Earlier this year the Daily Telegraph, its Sunday sister paper, and The Spectator magazine were put up for sale after the Bank of Scotland—owned by the Lloyds Banking Group—ran out of patience with its owners over the £1 billion debt.

The bank said it would sell the traditionally conservative media titles to the highest bidder after the failure of talks with the Barclay family.

Earlier this month it was announced RedBird IMI, an investment vehicle owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, vice-president of the UAE, reached a deal to purchase the group, which is based in London.

Joint Venture Would pay off Barclay Family Debt

RedBird IMI—a joint venture between U.S. firm RedBird Capital and International Media Investments (IMI) of Abu Dhabi—would have paid off the Barclay family’s debt to Lloyds as part of the deal.
Several rival media outlets highlighted potential issues with the sale, including The Times, which suggested Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber, described as UAE’s “censor-in-chief,” would play a key role in the management of the Telegraph because of his role at IMI.
The Times also quoted several journalists who worked for The National, a paper financially backed by Sheikh Mansour, who claimed the initial editorial freedom they were given when it was launched in 2008 was gradually eroded and articles which were critical of the UAE government were dropped.
Sheikh Mansour—whose brother Sheikh Mohammed is the president of the UAE—also owns Premier League champions Manchester City.

Last week, Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said she was “minded” to open an investigation into whether the deal was against the public interest.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport said Ms. Frazer was still considering whether to issue a Public Interest Intervention Notice.

MPs Urge Government not to be ‘Railroaded’

The 18 Tory backbenchers urged the government not to be, “railroaded into clearing” the change of ownership and urged him to pause the deal while he reflected on the possible damage to press freedom and national security.
Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan smiles as he is shown a hunting falcon in Abu Dhabi Sept. 13, 2004. (Rabih Moghrabi/AFP)
Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan smiles as he is shown a hunting falcon in Abu Dhabi Sept. 13, 2004. (Rabih Moghrabi/AFP)

The authors of the letter said the fact the UAE was, “strengthening its relationship with Beijing at a time of growing tensions is even more troubling.”

The MPs told Mr. Dowden, “We therefore think that, in addition to the sensible steps already taken, now is the time for the government to announce that it will use its powers under the National Security and Investment Act to scrutinise this deal fully.”

They added: “Taking action under the NSI Act would not prejudice the bid and those involved in it. Instead, much like a Public Interest Intervention Notice, it would enable the government to gather the necessary information and examine the proposed transactions in detail.

Other MPs known to have signed the letter are Robert Courts, chairman of the defence select committee, Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Richard Drax, Simon Fell, James Grundy, Sir John Hayes, Simon Jupp, Jonathan Lord, Craig Mackinlay, Jill Mortimer, John Redwood, Selaine Saxby, Alec Shelbrooke, Andrew Selous and Sir Desmond Swayne.

PA Media contributed to this report.