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Thu, 22 October 2020

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Number 10 touts Chris Grayling’s ‘extensive experience’ as he’s nominated for intelligence watchdog

Number 10 touts Chris Grayling’s ‘extensive experience’ as he’s nominated for intelligence watchdog

Mr Grayling is a former Cabinet minister and backer of Boris Johnson’s leadership campaign (PA)

4 min read

Number 10 has talked up former Cabinet minister Chris Grayling’s “extensive range of experience” as he was nominated to sit on Parliament’s powerful intelligence and security committee.

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister said those nominated for the ISC — including the former justice secretary who is tipped as its chairman — would “ensure robust and effective scrutiny” of the UK’s security services.

But Number 10 refused to be drawn on whether the PM had asked fellow Tory nominees to back Mr Grayling for the top scrutiny job.

Such a move could raise eyebrows because of Mr Grayling's association with a string of controversial government projects, including a now-scrapped shake-up of the probation service and his stint as transport secretary during the botched rollout of new railway timetables. 

The former Cabinet minister was also among the most high-profile backers of Mr Johnson's Conservative leadership campaign.

Speaking after a government motion was published naming the Government’s picks for the committee gig, the Prime Minister’s spokesperson said: “All the nominees are senior parliamentarians with an extensive range of experience including in government, opposition and in Parliament.”

And they added: “We believe that will ensure a robust and effective scrutiny of the security services.”

The Government motion reveals that the Prime Minister is nominating Mr Grayling, as well as senior Tory ex-ministers John Hayes and Theresa Villiers; Conservative MPs Julian Lewis and Mark Pritchard; Labour’s Diana Johnson and Kevan Jones; and the SNP’s Stuart Hosie to sit on the committee. 

Asked whether fellow Conservative nominees would be asked to support Mr Grayling as committee chairman, Number 10 said: “The chair will be agreed by the committee itself once it has gone through all the stages in Parliament.”

MPs will on Monday be asked to debate and agree the government’s list of nominees before that motion moves on to the House of Lords a day later.

After its membership is confirmed, members of the committee will then go on to pick a chairman.

But the news that Mr Grayling could clinch the top post has already sparked anger from opposition MPs.

Liberal Democrat leadership hopeful Layla Moran said: “This could be the first time in history that Chris Grayling appears in the same sentence as intelligence.

"This is the man who paid a ferry contract to a company with no ships and oversaw the catastrophic privatisation of probation. That he is being put in charge of this committee shows the government's scant regard for national security.”

And Labour's Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said: “The decision by the Prime Minister to nominate Chris Grayling as Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee is truly astonishing. This is an appointment to a vital national security role at a critical time. 

“It beggars belief that the apparently strongest Conservative candidate has overseen disasters such as the botched privatisation of probation services, a ferry agreement with a firm with no ferries, and the mishandling of the East Coast rail franchise."

'PUPPET'

The ISC can grill ministers, security chiefs and senior officials as part of its work.

It is made up of nine members, who are all bound by the Official Secrets Act and given access to highly classified material. 

Its previous chair was former attorney general Dominic Grieve, who was a fierce critic of the Government's approach to Brexit.

The newly-formed ISC's first job will be to publish a long-delayed report on Russian interference in UK democracy.

The inquiry is said to have taken evidence from members of the intelligence services and looked into claims that the Kremlin tried to influence the outcome of the EU referendum in 2016 as well as the following year's general election.

Mr Thomas-Symonds said: "Yet again this is an example of the Prime Minister seeking to work in his own interest, rather than the national interest. The work of the ISC is vital and the country will accept no further delays in the publication the long-awaited Russia report."

And Ms Moran added: “I challenge Grayling to prove he isn’t a puppet of [senior Number 10 adviser] Dominic Cummings, and to release the Russia report that has spent months languishing on a desk in Whitehall. The public deserves to know the truth."

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