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Tories and the Telegraph

Tories and the Telegraph

Conservative MPs are worried about their house journal falling into foreign hands. Five of them have written to the UK’s culture secretary, business secretary and deputy prime minister to sound the alarm over a plan for the Barclay family to regain control of the Daily Telegraph by paying off £1.1 billion in loans with the help of the UAE-based International Media Investments group, which has links to the emirati royal family.

The group is a major investor in Redbird IMI, run by the former CNN chief Jeff Zucker, who has been linked to the Barclay family plan. He hasn’t commented on whether he wants to buy the Telegraph, but the FT reports that as part of the deal Redbird would be able to convert the debt it acquires into shares in the company, giving it effective control of the paper.

The debt is currently held by Lloyds Bank, which wants its money back. The worried Tories’ argument that this is a UAE play for control of a precious British media asset rather than a business venture is based on the view that there’s no way the Telegraph’s revenues could service so much debt.

Axel Springer, the German publisher, reached a similar conclusion earlier this year, dropping out of the bidding at £600 million. That left the hedge fund manager Paul Marshall and the DMGT and News UK media groups still in the running along with Redbird, though their efforts could all be in vain if the Barclay family finds a way to exercise its right to repay its debt.

The MPs who’ve written to ministers include Edward Leigh and John Hayes. Separately, the business secretary herself, Kemi Badenock, has raised concerns with the culture secretary, Lucy Frazer, Bloomberg reports. Frazer is under growing pressure to issue a public interest intervention notice, which would require Ofcom and the Competition in Markets Authority to report to the government on public interest and competition aspects of the deal. The Barclay family insists no PIIN is needed, but it’s Frazer who must decide.