An Abu Dhabi-backed takeover of The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph and The Spectator has been referred to media watchdog Ofcom.
The Barclay family have been hoping to sell the publications to a consortium. But on Thursday, culture secretary Lucy Frazer issued a public interest intervention notice (PIIN) into the bid.
Ministers were asked to intervene after RedBird IMI, an investment fund owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, vice-president of the UAE, reached a deal to purchase the publications. The MPs said they believed that the proposed transaction presented “a very real potential national security threat”.
The backbenchers said ministers should not be “railroaded” into clearing the change of ownership and should instead pause the deal to review its impact on Britain’s security and press freedom.
Ofcom is now being asked to investigate whether the deal would breach requirements including “the need for the accurate presentation of news and free expression of opinion in newspapers”.
Highlighting human-rights charity Amnesty International’s concerns over the “serious implications” for media freedom if the deal went ahead, the objecting MPs said the sale could “imperil these publications’ ability to report freely, which clearly poses a national security risk”.
When asked to respond to the letter, RedBird pointed to remarks by head of the fund Jeff Zucker, who told the Telegraph on Tuesday that concerns over the takeover were “misplaced”.
“I am here to say that the editorial independence of the Telegraph is guaranteed,” Mr Zucker said.
In the last two months the Barclay family has lodged a series of proposals to repay roughly £1bn of debt it owes the high street bank, with most of those tabled at a significant discount to its face value.
Until June, the newspapers were chaired by Aidan Barclay, the nephew of Sir Frederick Barclay, the octogenarian who along with late brother Sir David engineered the takeover of the Telegraph 19 years ago.