BBC Radio 4, The World Tonight – 28 August 2020
Mairead Devlin: The former Conservative Cabinet Minister, Chris Grayling, has resigned from Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, just weeks after failing to be elected as its Chairman. Mr Grayling was Number 10’s preferred candidate for the job, but was beaten by the Tory backbencher, Julian Lewis. Mr Lewis won the Chairmanship with the support of Opposition MPs and was subsequently expelled from the Parliamentary Conservative Party. Mr Grayling has not said why he stepped down.
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Shaun Ley: You may remember that, a few weeks ago on The World Tonight we reported a rather extraordinary political coup. The former Cabinet Minister Chris Grayling had been appointed to Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee. Number 10 expected its Tory members to vote him in as Chairman. Instead, one of those Tories, Julian Lewis, put himself forward and, with the votes of Opposition Members as well as his own, secured victory. Julian Lewis was thrown out of the Tory Parliamentary Party as a result.
Nick Eardley, our Political Correspondent, has news of another departure, this time from the Committee itself. What can you tell us, Nick?
Nick Eardley: That’s right, Shaun. Chris Grayling, after failing to get that Chairmanship that he was so widely touted to get, has decided he doesn't want to be a member of the Committee after all. A very short statement from the ISC tonight simply saying that, in accordance with the rules, Chris Grayling had written to Julian Lewis and announced he was resigning. The two have exchanged letters which, I'm sad to say, we've not seen, because Mr Grayling doesn't want them released. Dr Lewis has said he'd be happy for them to be out there. Mr Grayling isn't so keen.
And, I've got to say, this isn't completely unexpected; because there had been rumours swirling around Westminster that Chris Grayling's heart wasn't really in it after he failed to get that top job, and so it’s proved tonight. He's decided that he doesn't want to be on the Committee after all.
Shaun Ley: I guess you can understand it being both embarrassing – perhaps even a little humiliating – not least, as he would see it perhaps, being undermined by a fellow Conservative Member; but why the gap between the coup and tonight's announcement, do you think?
Nick Eardley: It's a good question. We have reached out to Chris Grayling for a comment tonight – not heard anything back yet. It is going to leave this strange position, however, where Chris Grayling's only input into the Intelligence and Security Committee was to agree to the publication of the Russia report – one of the reasons that we think the Committee was held up for so long.
As you’ll know, Shaun, the Committee is about as secretive as you get. Nobody really speaks beyond what is agreed between the members. But a couple of sources I have spoken to tonight, close to the Committee, are suggesting, some politely, some not so politely, that Mr Grayling’s heart might not have been in it. As one put it, ‘It doesn't look particularly good, does it?’
Shaun Ley: Difficult, I suppose, to know what, as you say, may have lain behind it in terms of the details, and it would be, as you say, fascinating to know what was in those letters.
No suggestion though that this might in any way draw a line under the affair and perhaps allow the Prime Minister to quietly re-admit Julian Lewis to the Conservative fold? Quite a number of his colleagues albeit they might not have liked the circumstances, did regard him as a bit of a loss to the Conservative team.
Nick Eardley: I think that's right and I think there was some disquiet on the Tory benches about the way this all played out. You remember that the argument we heard from some in Government was that Julian Lewis had basically conspired with Opposition parties against his own colleagues to make himself the Chairman, for his own personal gain.
It wouldn't be the first time, though, Shaun, that Boris Johnson had taken pretty swift and drastic action against a rebellion, and then, a few months down the line, decided to admit someone back into the party. That happened with quite a few people who weren't so keen on his Brexit strategy, but at the moment there are no signs of that.
Shaun Ley: Yes, one or two even made it to the House of Lords. You never know; [and] Chris Grayling may yet get another opportunity for political advancement. We will see. Nick Eardley at Westminster, thank you.”