Conservative MPs have called for an investigation into the Barclay family’s bid to regain control of the Telegraph newspaper group. The family plans to use funding from Abu Dhabi, which has raised concerns over national security and foreign influence. The Telegraph is known for its alignment with the Conservative party, and the potential change in ownership has caused unease among Tory MPs.
Lloyds Banking Group placed the media group into receivership earlier this year due to unpaid debts and subsequently put it up for sale. However, the Barclay family recently offered to repay the £1.1 billion debt, with funding provided by an Abu Dhabi royal family member and investment vehicle RedBird IMI. This raised questions about the potential material influence over two significant British media publications, The Telegraph and The Spectator, by entities linked to the Emirati royal family.
The MPs argue that the government should examine the deal under the Enterprise Act 2002 and the National Security & Investment Act 2021. They express concerns that if the funds are taken as security for the loan, it would exceed the revenue capabilities of the publications. They stress the need for close scrutiny, given the potential threat to press freedom and national security concerns.
This represents the first time Tory MPs have specifically questioned the Barclay family’s connections to Abu Dhabi, rather than merely highlighting concerns over foreign influence in the newspaper group’s acquisition. The letter of concern was also signed by Conservative peer Baroness Margaret Eaton.
Despite the concerns raised by parliamentarians, the decision regarding the future of the newspaper ultimately lies with Lloyds. The Barclay family has the legal right to repay the debts, making it challenging for MPs to influence the outcome.
A court hearing scheduled for next week, which would liquidate a holding firm above the group and finalize the receivership process, is expected to be adjourned to allow more time for the family to structure the deal with Lloyds. If the family manages to secure the necessary funding to repay the debt in full, the auction of the newspaper will be halted.
The MPs argue that the Barclay family’s deal could be subject to investigation through a public interest intervention notice. However, the family has stated that issuing such a notice in relation to a debt transaction has no basis or precedent. They express confidence that their proposal would not trigger any regulatory reviews concerning the ownership of the media assets.
As the situation unfolds, it remains to be seen how the government, Lloyds, and the Barclay family will address the concerns raised by the MPs. The outcome of this investigation could have significant implications for both press freedom and national security.