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Tue, 4 August 2020

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Julian Lewis defends security watchdog coup and slams Boris Johnson for ‘improper request’ to install Chris Grayling instead

Julian Lewis defends security watchdog coup and slams Boris Johnson for ‘improper request’ to install Chris Grayling instead

Dr Julian Lewis defended his decision to run for the ISC chair (Parliament.UK)

4 min read

Dr Julian Lewis has defended his decision to launch a coup to become the chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee and criticised Boris Johnson after he had the Tory whip removed.

He accused the Prime Minister of an “improper request” after revealing he was urged to back Chris Grayling to head up the watchdog instead.

In a statement following the extraordinary scenes on Wednesday night, Dr Lewis denied he had ever agreed to back someone else to be ISC chair.

And he called the decision to kick him out of the Conservative party “strange”, as the PM does not have the right to choose who leads the powerful cross-party committee.

The ISC has since agreed to make public the results of a long-awaited inquiry into the impact of Russian interference into UK democracy by the end of next week.

A statement said: “The Committee has unanimously agreed this morning that it will publish the Report on Russia prepared by its predecessor before the house rises for the summer recess.”

Speaking on Thursday morning Dr Lewis said: "Because the ISC is a special committee, I feel constrained in what I can say. However, the following points are relevant.

“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. 

“I remember this well, as I served on the committee from 2010 to 2015 and took part of the legislation through the Commons myself on behalf of the committee.”

Defending his decision to put himself forward to be chair, he added: “There is no other Conservative MP in the House of Commons with any past experience of working on the ISC.”

After the committee, which oversees the work of MI5, MI6, GCHQ and the other intelligence and security services, was finally formed more than six months after the election, it had been expected Mr Grayling would be made chair, despite Downing Street denying he was their preferred candidate.

With five Tories out of the nine members to the opposition four, it had seemed a formality the former transport secretary would win any vote when they met on Wednesday.

But in a shock announcement it was revealed Dr Lewis had been elected chair, provoking fury from Number 10.

He had the whip removed hours later, with a senior government source accusing him of “working with Labour and other opposition MPs for his own advantage”.

“I did not reply as I considered it an improper request"

Dr Lewis hit back, saying on Thursday morning: “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. 

“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.

“In recent days, the official Number 10 spokesman explicitly denied that the Government was seeking to 'parachute' a preferred candidate in to the chair, stating that it was a matter for the senior parliamentarians on the committee to decide.

"It is therefore strange to have the whip removed for failing to vote for the Government's preferred candidate."

The ISC’s former chair, Dominic Grieve, 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”.

The ex-Attorney General told BBC's Newsnight: “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.”

Business Secretary Alok Sharma refused to be drawn on the decision, telling BBC Radio 4's Today programme: “That is a matter for the whips, that is not something for me.

"The whole point of that committee is to provide oversight, to provide scrutiny, and that will continue.

"With reference to any individuals in the parliamentary party, I can only repeat that that is really a matter for the whips rather for me. 

“I have not been involved in any of these discussions."

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