Liz Truss has urged the Government to protect The Telegraph’s editorial independence amid growing concerns about a takeover of its titles by an Abu Dhabi-backed fund.
The former prime minister said it was vital that it was able to publish “freely” after ministers decided to launch a review of the deal amid fears of censorship and foreign interference.
In an interview with The Telegraph in Washington DC, Ms Truss also argued that the UK should work to prevent Gulf states becoming part of a growing global “axis of authoritarianism” led by Russia, China and Iran.
“I am a great supporter of the free press and I’ve always been a great supporter of the free press,” she said. “I want the Government to ensure that any ownership of the press enables them to freely publish according to what they believe to be the case.”
Ownership of The Telegraph is set to pass to RedBird IMI, an investment fund led by Jeff Zucker, the former CNN boss, and backed by Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a member of the UAE’s royal family.
The fund has issued a £600 million loan to the Barclay family, who have owned Telegraph Media Group since 2004, to repay a debt to Lloyds Banking Group. IMI, an Abu Dhabi vehicle, is lending them an additional £600m to repay other debts to the bank. Under the deal, the first loan will be converted into shares of The Telegraph and The Spectator magazine.
However, Lucy Frazer, the Culture Secretary, last week temporarily blocked the fund from taking control of The Telegraph while she carries out a review.
Her decision came after a dozen Conservative MPs, including Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory leader, and Alicia Kearns, the chairman of Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote to the Government requesting a review. They warned of a “very real potential national security threat” if the deal went ahead.
In her interview with The Telegraph, Ms Truss said the UK must try and prevent the UAE from being drawn into an alliance with hostile foreign states, including Russia and China.
Citing the rise of the USSR during the Cold War, she said: “What worries me is that we have this axis of authoritarian regimes trying to build their influence around the world, and what we need to do is show strength. That is both economic strength, military strength and moral strength.
“We need to attract other countries who are not part of that axis to align with the West and to align with our values. No country is perfect. And if you only had allies that perfectly subscribe to every value that we hold dear in Britain, you wouldn’t have that many allies. So we need to reach out, in my view, to countries and persuade them.”
Ms Truss is visiting Washington DC to discuss foreign policy with wavering Republican congressmen, who have threatened to end security assistance from the US to Ukraine.
She said wars in Ukraine and Israel and concerns over Taiwan were part of the same conflict of democracies against “authoritarian dictators”.
“These are not multiple wars – this is the same war,” she added. “This is a war against freedom and democracy and our way of life. That’s what it is, and we should see it as such. If you look at Israel, or you look at Ukraine, or you look at Taiwan, these are free democracies that are neighbours to autocracies.
“We need to give our full support to the Israeli government. No ifs, no buts. I don’t want to see double standards applied, that Israel is held to different standards than other countries.
“They are a free democracy in a part of the world where free democracies are rare and the heinous crimes, the rape, the brutality, the kidnapping of children that has taken place is truly horrific.”
Ms Truss called on the US to do more to support Ukraine in the coming months as the country faces a winter air offensive from Russian forces, saying: “What I would like to see is more of the weapons that will help Ukraine actually win being provided. So the long-range weapons, for example, the mine-clearing equipment, for example.
“Planes, as well, would be extremely helpful to enable the Ukrainians to actually have the wherewithal to win the war, rather than just maintaining the status quo.”
Responding to the UK Supreme Court’s decision last month to declare the Government’s Rwanda migrant deportation policy unlawful, Ms Truss said Rishi Sunak should legislate to circumvent the European Court of Human Rights.
Asked whether she supported the Government’s plan to pass a law to allow the flights to go ahead, she replied: “I’ll wait to see the legislation.”