Julian Lewis has had the Conservative whip removed just hours after beating Number 10's pick to chair a powerful security watchdog
By Alain Tolhurst and Matt Honeycombe-Foster
PoliticsHome – 15 July 2020
Mr Lewis, who was elected as Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee in a surprise turn on Wednesday, has been booted out of the parliamentary Tory party after defeating Chris Grayling. A senior Government source accused Dr Lewis of
“working with Labour and other opposition MPs for his own advantage”.
Mr Grayling was Number 10’s preferred choice to lead the ISC, which oversees the work of MI5, MI6, GCHQ and the other intelligence and security services. The long-awaited announcement of which MPs would sit on the committee was finally made more than six months after the general election. Mr Grayling, along with Dr Lewis and fellow Conservatives Sir John Hayes, Mark Pritchard and Theresa Villiers, Labour’s Dame Diana Johnson and Kevan Jones, and the SNP’s Stewart Hosie, were approved by the Commons on Monday, while Lord West of Spithead’s membership was signed off by peers on Tuesday.
It had seemed to be a formality that Mr Grayling, who served in both David Cameron and Theresa May’s Cabinets, would be selected as its chair. But a one-line press release from the watchdog on Wednesday evening said:
“The Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament (ISC) today elected Rt Hon Dr Julian Lewis MP as its Chairman."
It is understood the four opposition members, plus the new Chairman himself, voted for Dr Lewis, outnumbering the remaining four Tories in the ballot for the chair.
'MATTER FOR THE COMMITTEE'
Downing Street had talked up Mr Grayling’s “extensive range of experience” earlier this week after it was revealed he was nominated to sit on the ISC. But a spokesman for the Prime Minister would not be drawn on whether Boris Johnson had asked his fellow Tory nominees to back him for the top scrutiny job. After it was announced the chairmanship had gone to Dr Lewis, a Number 10 spokesman said:
"Chairman of the ISC is a matter for the Committee.”
Pressed on the row on the Today programme on Thursday morning, Business Secretary Alok Sharma said:
“That is a matter for the whips, that is not something for me”.
And he added:
“In terms of the parliamentary party that really is a matter for the whips rather than for me”.
Refusing to "get into a discussion about individuals in Parliament", the Cabinet minister added:
"We've got lots of very very good people who’ve got huge experience who are sitting on this this committee. As I said, it's now been formed, it can move forward with its work”.
The Committee’s formation, following the longest delay since its inception, clears the path for the report into alleged Russian meddling in UK democracy to be finally made public. The study, which could include details of links between prominent Russian figures and the Conservative Party, was completed last year but then not published before Parliament broke up ahead of December’s election, when the committee was disbanded.
Dominic Grieve, the former chair of the ISC who was defeated at the last General Election, said removing the whip from Dr Lewis demonstrated
"that the government simply doesn't understand what the Intelligence and Security Committee is there to do".
“This is a non-partisan committee and I think I'm right in saying, it has never ever had a vote in its history; it proceeds by consensus",
he told BBC's Newsnight.
“If you were to attend meetings, obviously they take place in secret, you wouldn't know who's a member of which political party.
So the idea that there's something wrong in Julian Lewis getting support from Labour or SNP MPs to become the Chair, cannot be right, because that is to politicise it in a party political way, whereas the statute which sets this Committee up makes quite clear that it is for the Committee members at their first meeting to elect their Chair."
“What troubles me about this episode, quite apart from its utter absurdity and now withdrawing the whip from Julian who is indeed highly respected, is the mindset it gives about what is going on in Downing Street.
Why did they try to manipulate this process? They shouldn't have done. The Committee can only exist, the Committee can only be respected ... if it is seen to be nonpartisan and independent.”
Lib Dem MP Alistair Carmichael said the PM had
"driven a coach and horses through public trust by appointing yes-men to the intelligence committee”.
“True to form, however, ‘failing Grayling’ has been undone in his bid to be Chair.
I hope we now have a committee with real teeth that can hold this Government to account.
That starts by publishing the report into Russian interference of our democracy before the summer recess so MPs can scrutinise it fully."