Charles Moore Charles Moore

Who really controls The Spectator?

Now that the government has triggered a public-interest intervention (PIIN), who will end up owning the Telegraph group, and this paper, after deliberations finish in late January? If it dismisses objections to the sale to the ruling family of Abu Dhabi, that family’s vehicle, RedBird IMI, takes control. A leading national newspaper and our most venerable British magazine are thus nationalised by an authoritarian Arab state. If the government rejects the Redbird IMI bid, in law the titles stay with the Barclay family (as they do right now, since the Barclays’ debt to Lloyds bank has been discharged, though under a ‘hold separate’ order which deprives the Barclays of executive power for the course of the investigation) with the consequent right to sell them. The reality, however, will be that the Barclays, heavily in debt to RedBird, will be under its thumb. The Abu Dhabi interest will control the sale. In those circumstances, it would seem unlikely there would be a public auction. It is assumed that Redbird IMI will then sell privately to whoever will pay the most and can comply with newspaper ownership rules.

Why would Rishi Sunak’s government not want the second outcome? It would mean that the row about a free press would disappear and a less controversial bidder, of whom there would be no shortage, would own the titles. The only visible (though unstated) reason why Mr Sunak would decide otherwise is Emirati money power. He seems to look at the United Arab Emirates, in which the Abu Dhabi element is dominant, rather as David Cameron, when prime minister, looked at China. There is said to be £10 billion on offer for investment in Britain, including in Sizewell C. The Prime Minister may think that sum so valuable – though in truth £10 billion is less than a month’s spending on the NHS – that he will sacrifice two national media assets, both broadly conservative, to a foreign power.

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