Whitehall could delay the Barclay family’s bid to regain control of the Telegraph titles if the deal with their Abu Dhabi-based backers is agreed, reports say
The Barclay family could be delayed from resuming control of the Telegraph if the deal with their Abu Dhabi-based backers is agreed, according to reports.
Government officials are said to be examining whether to issue an order used in corporate mergers to prevent the former owners from exerting influence over the paper until all debts on it are settled.
Tory MPs have urged ministers to block the sale to a UAE-based investment company over concerns about Press freedom.
The company – RedBird IMI – is backed by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi, who is deputy prime minister of the UAE and owns Manchester City.
The Telegraph titles and the Spectator magazine were owned by the Barclay family, but are now controlled by Lloyds Bank, to which they owe £1.2billion.
The Barclay family could be delayed from resuming control of the Telegraph if the deal with their Abu Dhabi-based backers is agreed, according to reports
The company – RedBird IMI – is backed by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan (pictured) of Abu Dhabi, who is deputy prime minister of the UAE and owns Manchester City
The family has proposed to repay the loans with cash from RedBird IMI, a joint venture between RedBird Capital, an American company, and International Media Investments, a group backed by Sheikh Mansour.
RedBird has said that it would be ‘fully committed to maintaining the existing editorial teams of the publications and believes that editorial independence for these titles is essential’.
READ MORE: Downing Street slaps down minister who publicly backed sale of Daily Telegraph to a UAE fund
Jeff Zucker, who is leading the Abu Dhabi-backed bid to take over the Telegraph, insisted the newspaper’s editorial independence would be protected.
In an interview with the Telegraph on a visit to London, he said: ‘If anyone were to come to me with even the suggestion of interference, I would resign. I understand why people have raised questions.
‘All I can say is, they’re misplaced. I am here to say the editorial independence of the Telegraph is guaranteed.’
Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer, however, has said she is ‘minded’ to order a public interest intervention notice before allowing the deal to go ahead, a move which is thought to be imminent.
Yesterday Sky News reported that her officials could also issue a ‘hold-separate’ order on the Barclays.
It would prevent the family from exerting control over the Telegraph during the period before RedBird IMI’s loans convert into equity and ownership of the newspapers, something likely to be delayed by an intervention notice.
Hold-separate notices prevent any major changes being made to companies while the Competition and Markets Authority carries out an investigation.
Jeff Zucker (pictured), who is leading the Abu Dhabi-backed bid to take over the Telegraph, insisted the newspaper’s editorial independence would be protected
Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer (pictured), however, has said she is ‘minded’ to order a public interest intervention notice before allowing the deal to go ahead, a move which is thought to be imminent
They prevent parts of the businesses being disposed of and changes to the organisational structure, management or key staff. Sky also reported that the Government has not yet formally decided to publish the order, although it is said to be seriously considering doing so.
The Prime Minister said at the weekend that ‘having a free Press and a competitive media sector is important to our democracy’.
READ MORE: As his Ministers ponder whether to intervene in sale of Telegraph to group part-funded by UAE ruling family… Rishi Sunak insists a free press and competitive media sector is important to our democracy
Rishi Sunak is due to travel to the UAE for the Cop28 climate summit this week. He is expected to meet Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, the event’s president, who is also chairman of IMI.
The Culture Department has written to Lloyds, the Barclay family and RedBird IMI signalling that Ms Frazer will issue an intervention notice within days.
In a statement last week, she said: ‘This relates to concerns I have that there may be public interest considerations, as set out in section 58 of the Enterprise Act 2002, that are relevant to the intended loan repayment by the Barclay family and the planned acquisition of Telegraph Media Group by RedBird IMI and that these concerns warrant further investigation.’
She has said she is minded to instruct Ofcom to investigate whether the takeover could restrict the Telegraph’s coverage and officials said she ‘remains concerned about the potential for influence over the Telegraph’s newspaper operations’.
Tory MP Alicia Kearns, who chairs the Commons foreign affairs committee, expressed her fears about the bid.
‘There are a group of us who are concerned about this as Conservative MPs and we are looking at how we make our views known,’ she told Sky News Politics Hub last night.
‘We’ll be having private conversations behind the scenes, but we’re looking at whether we want to do something more public as well.’
A spokesman for the Culture Department declined to comment last night.
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