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Boris Johnson and Alexander Lebedev: The questions that must still be answered

Another scandal over Boris Johnson's Premiership is simmering and threatens to boil over. And this time it's a matter of national security.

Former KGB officer Alexander Lebedev
Former KGB officer Alexander Lebedev. What went on between him and Boris Johnson?

There’s a very ugly clip doing the rounds on Twitter in the aftermath of Boris Johnson’s resignation speech. 

A woman in a bright yellow dress has clearly lost the plot; jabbing her hands and yelling like a loony at protestors at the gates of Downing Street.

She is Andrea Jenkyns, Tory MP and Johnson loyalist. All rather embarrassing, like one of those sad scenes outside a nightclub when the angry drunk attempts to save face by yelling at the doormen who’ve just chucked her out.

“He who laughs last, laughs the loudest,” she screams at the public. “WAIT AND SEE!!

Wait and see indeed.

It’s natural to think Johnson’s resignation draws a line beneath the investigations into the behaviour of the most morally-vacant Prime Minister ever. We are all heartily sick of him and the world wants to move on.

Even Johnson could be forgiven for thinking the pressure of scrutiny will evaporate now he has conceded the game is up: The client-journalist friends in mainstream media who abetted his corruption in exchange for proximity to power are now his prospective future employers. They will all soon be on the payroll together.

How long before he has stitched up a multi-million Rupert Murdoch media deal comprising a column in The Sun, a Talk TV show and a HarperCollins book deals? 

Meanwhile, over at the Daily Mail, Paul Dacre is personally directing the most deranged slant on political events ever seen in Fleet Street, in defence of the man whose resignation honours are expected to make him a peer. Not since Lord Vader will the concept of nobility have been so heavily ironised.

However, one particular line of inquiry is currently simmering away and may soon begin to boil over. 

Above and beyond partygate, remorsegate, pinchgate, arcurigate, wallpapergate, carriegate, and the rest of the Boris Johnson gated community of misdemeanours … his relationship with Alexander and Evgeny Lebedev is the story that most gravely threatens what’s left of his reputation.

Most politicians would look at Evgeny Lebedev, peacocky playboy owner of the London Evening Standard and Independent with a taste for wild parties and weird wardrobe, and give him as wide a berth as possible.

Hanging out with the wacko-mega-wealthy is a bad look when you’re trying to portray yourself as a man in touch with Red Wall voters in Bolsover, but it’s not a crime. Nor is giving him a seat in the House of Lords him because he’s your mate and he’s got a great villa in Italy, although this perhaps should be.

However, the inferences being drawn about Johnson’s unaccompanied meetings with the source of Evgeny’s copious wealth, his former KGB officer dad Alexander, while Foreign Secretary and even (if Dominic Cummings is to be believed) as Prime Minister as recently as 2020, are another matter.

Alexander Lebedev is man with a deeply murky background, as this excellent John Sweeney investigation in The Byline Times makes clear. 

The idea that a Foreign Secretary could hold clandestine meetings with a man so-closely linked to Vladimir Putin in the immediate aftermath of the Skripal poisoning crisis, without his officials either aware or present, is simply incredible. 

As Yvette Cooper told the Commons this week, this goes beyond a lack of integrity and into the realms of a threat to the UK’s national security. 

Cooper asked a handful of questions that must be fully answered in the public interest. 

Did Johnson tell officials at the Foreign Office or Home Office that he was meeting, privately, with Alexander Lebedev on April 28, 2018?

At that meeting, did Alexander Lebedev facilitate a phone call between Johnson and Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov?

Was Johnson so incapacitated by drink that he couldn’t recall the details of the meeting?

Who was the guest Johnson took with him to Italy, and did that liaison put Johnson in a compromising position?

Why have Conservative ministers in Johnson’s circle been covering up for him?

Additionally: did Johnson, as Cummings claims on twitter, meet alone with Alexander Lebedev while he was Prime Minister in March 2020 at the peak of the Covid crisis?

“It’s bad enough covering up for him over parties and breaking the law, but covering up for him over national security is a total disgrace,” Cooper concluded.

When challenged over these meetings at the aptly-named liaison committee on Wednesday, Johnson squirmed like a fish on a hook. 

Q: “When you were foreign secretary, did you meet Alexander Lebedev without officials?”

A: “I think I probably did.”

Q: “Did you report to your officials that you had met him?”

A: “Er…” gazes around the room blankly … “I think I … I think I did mention it, yes.”

It’s hard not to conclude that Johnson’s personal relationship with Lebedev senior is at least one consideration in Britain’s decision not to joined Canada in sanctioning him over the war in Ukraine. Johnson and Zelensky may be new besties, but his relationship with Alexander runs, it seems, much deeper.

The current distraction of his departure and the election (if you can call it an election) of the next Prime Minister will provide a little smoke cover for Johnson in the coming weeks.

But when that smoke clears, and the questions over his abject disregard for UK national security still hang in the air, even uber-loyalists like Andrea Jenkyn may want to distance themselves from not just the worst-ever PM in British history, but the most dangerous.

In her own words, we’ll wait and see.

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