Julian Lewis – the new chair of the House of Commons Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) – has hit out after being sacked as a Tory MP for defeating the government’s choice to chair the committee.
Last night, the government removed the whip from Lewis, meaning that although still an MP, he is no longer part of the Conservative parliamentary party.
This comes after Lewis worked with Labour MP’s to defeat Chris Grayling – No 10’s pick to chair the committee – and won the position as chair of the committee.
Lewis has called out the government, saying that their move to install Grayling as chair of the committee was an “improper request” and that he was perfectly entitled to run as committee chair.
After Boris Johnson had nominated five Conservative MPs for the committee last week, Number 10 had wanted to parachute Grayling in to head up the committee, despite a disastrous spell as Secretary of State for transport, which saw him award a government contract to a ferry company who did not own a single ferry.
It was alleged that the government wanted to install Grayling to prevent the release of the Russia report – a document that was completed in the run-up to the general election – with allegations that it could be damning on Russian interference in the UK democratic system; the report is now set to be released next week.
The publication of the report had been delayed from the end of last year with Jeremy Corbyn criticising Boris Johnson’s failure to release it during the General Election campaign in 2019.
The government’s decision to remove the whip from Lewis has been heavily criticised, with committee’s meant to act impartially and without partisanship, with the attempt to whip the votes for Grayling being considered against the tradition of such decisions being left up to the committee.
This is not the first time that Boris Johnson has purged the Conservative Party of those who do not toe the line, removing the whip from 21 Tory MP’s – including senior figures such as Ken Clarke and David Gauke – who failed to back him on leaving a ‘no deal’ Brexit on the table during EU negotiations.
Well, this takes me back. https://t.co/4kidTuHmT6
— David Gauke (@DavidGauke) July 15, 2020
Following the decision to expel Lewis, he stated, that the 2013 Justice and Security Act removed the right for the prime minister to choose the ISC chairman and gave it to the 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,” Lewis said.
“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”.
Lewis had formerly headed up the select committee for defence and was considered more qualified by many to receive the highly sensitive security briefings that the committee is regularly briefed on.