By Jon Waller
New forest East MP Julian Lewis has pleaded with local Conservative supporters not to quit the Tories after he was axed from the Parliamentary party for working with the Opposition to win a key role. Dr Lewis spoke to the A & T in the wake of winning the Chairmanship of the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) over the Government’s preferred candidate, former Cabinet minister Chris Grayling.
With Dr Lewis at the helm, the Committee on Tuesday published the long-awaited report into alleged interference by Russia in UK politics. It criticised the Government for making no effort to investigate claims of the EU referendum being influenced and said intelligence agencies had not given the issue enough attention.
Despite his expulsion, Dr Lewis (68), a staunch Brexiter who has held the seat since 1997, assured constituents he would continue to represent them as normal. He said:
“The withdrawal of the whip, in a fit of pique, has cut me off from the Parliamentary party for the time being, but everything else remains the same.
“I do urge sympathetic Conservatives not to turn their back on our party locally. I remain a proud member of the New Forest East Conservative Association and hope they will stay fully involved too.”
After his ascension to the ISC Chairmanship, Dr Lewis justified his actions by pointing out the 2013 Justice and Security Act explicitly removed the right of the Prime Minister to choose the ISC Chairman and gave it to the Committee members. Before the vote, Dr Lewis said, he had received a text asking him to vote for Mr Grayling. He added:
“I did not reply as I considered it an improper request. At no earlier stage did I give any undertaking to vote for any particular candidate.”
Some MPs jumped to his defence, pointing out the high profice ISC role is better suited to Dr Lewis, a former Chair of the Defence Committee who boasts a strong background on military issues. There was even support for him from Labour’s Julie Hope – who stood against him in the last Election and said he
“deserved to be treated with respect”.
“There is no doubt that with his experience, including a PhD in military history and chairing of the Defence Committee, he is far more qualified to take on the role of Chair of the Intelligence Committee than Christopher Grayling.
“His treatment also exposes the lack of democracy in the Tory Party. I have no doubt that the decision to dismiss him was made by the unelected and autocratic puppet master.”
The punishment of withdrawing the whip means that, although Dr Lewis remains a member of the Tory party, he effectively becomes an Independent Member of Parliament. It is thought that makes him the first non-Conservative MP for more than 100 years to represent a New Forest constituency.