By Ben Craig
Lymington Times & New Milton Advertiser – 17 July 2020
New Forest East MP Julian Lewis has been thrown out of the Conservative parliamentary party after he thwarted the government’s plan to install its preferred candidate as chair of a key Commons committee. According to reports, Dr Lewis voted for himself along with four opposition members of the nine-strong Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) to take the key role ahead of former cabinet minister Chris Grayling.
Mr Grayling had been seen as Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s choice to lead the prestigious body which will be responsible for releasing a long-awaited report into alleged Russian interference in UK politics. Although Dr Lewis remains a member of the Tory party, he loses the whip in the Commons, meaning 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 in their various forms.
The decision by Number 10 to throw him out of the parliamentary party came within hours of him winning the vote to be Committee Chair on Wednesday backed by Labour and SNP MPs. He was reportedly immediately accused by senior party officials of having secretly worked with the opposition to spring his successful candidacy. In a statement, Dr Lewis said that the 2013 Justice and Security Act explicitly removed the right of the Prime Minister to choose the ISC chairman and gave it to Committee members.
“It was only yesterday afternoon that I received a text asking me to confirm that I would be voting for the Prime Minister’s preferred candidate for the ISC chair,”
he said yesterday.
“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.”
James Binns, chair of the New Forest East Conservatives, said Dr Lewis retained the “full support” of the local association which was “dismayed” at the action by Number 10. Mr Binns told the A&T:
“Having shared the same building for 23 years, New Forest East Conservative Association has always had an exceptionally close working relationship with Julian and his team in the parliamentary office.
Whatever happens, this will not change as Julian continues to work in the best interests of his constituents. He will have the full support of the association.
Julian has acted no differently to when he democratically won the chairmanship of the Defence Select Committee in 2015. Our association is therefore disappointed and dismayed in any attempt to remove the party whip.”
Dr Lewis (68) has been a Tory MP since winning the New Forest East constituency in 1997. Conservative MP Sir Desmond Swayne, of New Forest West, backed his neighbour, saying:
“Julian is an expert on defence and security. He will be an excellent chairman.”
Backbencher Dr Lewis is a staunch Brexiter and told the A&T in 2019 that he had backed Mr Johnson to be Tory party leader. Until late last year he was chair of the Commons Defence Committee, and boasts a strong background on military issues.