Foreign Office intervenes to ‘soften’ the language used by Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer to avoid offending the Abu-Dhabi backers of fund seeking to take over the Telegraph, report claims
- Lucy Frazer said she was ‘minded’ to examine the proposed takeover deal
The Foreign Office intervened to ‘soften’ language used by the Culture Secretary to avoid offending the Abu Dhabi-based backers of a fund seeking to take over the Telegraph, it was claimed last night.
Lucy Frazer had said this week she was ‘minded’ to examine the proposed deal further after a number of Tory MPs warned it represented a threat to press freedom.
But Foreign Office officials became worried the language she used could offend the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which includes Abu Dhabi, ahead of a summit in London for foreign investors next week, The Daily Telegraph reported. The UAE is one of the biggest foreign investors in the UK.
Rishi Sunak is also set to visit Dubai in December for the Cop28 climate conference, which is headed by UAE national oil company chief executive Sultan Al Jaber. And David Cameron, who was appointed Foreign Secretary last week, took up a job in January teaching a three-week course at a university in Abu Dhabi.
Investment fund Redbird IMI – partly funded by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the deputy prime minister of the UAE and owner of Manchester City FC – announced on Tuesday it had struck a deal that would ultimately see it take control of the Telegraph newspapers. Mr Al Jaber is chairman of Redbird IMI, The New York Times reported in June.
Lucy Frazer had said this week she was ‘minded’ to examine the proposed deal further after a number of Tory MPs warned it represented a threat to press freedom
The Daily Telegraph itself used an editorial column this week to say the takeover by a fund ‘linked to a state not known for encouraging free expression’ would concern its readers (Stock Image)
Redbird IMI is being advised on its takeover bid for the Telegraph by public affairs firm Flint Global, whose co-founder and managing partner Sir Simon Fraser is a former Foreign Office mandarin.
Sir Simon quit his job working for one of Sir John Major’s ministers after he started a romantic relationship with a woman who was an official in the Palestine Liberation Organisation, it was reported in 2010. It is believed he was brought back into the Foreign Office in 2010 by William Hague, who was then foreign secretary.
Sir Simon served as permanent under-secretary at the Foreign Office and head of the Diplomatic Service from 2010 to 2015.
The other founder of Flint Global was Ed Richards, a former boss of media regulator Ofcom who once advised Tony Blair when he was prime minister.
Mr Richards is said to be acting as a behind-the-scenes lobbyist for Redbird IMI in its Telegraph bid. Ms Frazer said on Wednesday she is looking at launching a regulatory investigation into whether the deal would be against the public interest.
In a written ministerial statement, she said she had written to the parties to the proposed deal to inform them she was ‘minded to’ intervene over concerns ‘that warrant further investigation’.
She said grounds for her possible intervention include the need for ‘accurate presentation of news’, ‘free expression of opinion’ in newspapers and ‘plurality’ of views and ownership.
Rishi Sunak is also set to visit Dubai in December for the Cop28 climate conference, which is headed by UAE national oil company chief executive Sultan Al Jabe
If she decides to do so, it will trigger probes by media regulator Ofcom and the Competition and Markets Authority, which could result in a more detailed investigation.
Several Tory MPs have urged the Government to intervene in the proposed deal, warning that the arrangement ‘represents a potential threat to Press freedom in this country’.
The Daily Telegraph itself used an editorial column this week to say the takeover by a fund ‘linked to a state not known for encouraging free expression’ would concern its readers. The Telegraph and the Spectator were owned by the Barclay family, but were put into receivership by Lloyds owing to debts of £1.1billion.
Lloyds is now selling the group, but the Barclays have agreed a series of loans from Redbird IMI which would allow them to pay off the debts which would eventually be converted into equity meaning they would eventually own the papers.
The sales process – which involved other bidders, including DMGT media group, which owns the Daily Mail – has now been put on hold.
A spokesman for Redbird IMI said of the potential intervention by Ms Frazer: ‘We welcome the opportunity to make further representations to the Government, restating that if we gain ownership of the Telegraph and Spectator we will be committed to maintaining the existing editorial team and believe editorial independence for the titles is essential to protecting their reputation and credibility.’
The Department for Culture did not respond to requests for comment last night.
A Foreign Office spokesperson said: ‘It is standard practice for the Foreign Office to provide advice to other UK government departments when engaging with governments overseas.’
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