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Tue, 7 July 2020

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Russia report: MPs urge Boris Johnson to 'get a grip' over security committee delay

Russia report: MPs urge Boris Johnson to 'get a grip' over security committee delay

Boris Johnson is facing questions over the failure to publish a report on Russian interference

3 min read

MPs have urged Boris Johnson to "get a grip" over the delay in establishing a key parliamentary committee responsible for publishing a report into Russian interference in UK politics.

A cross-party group of thirty MPs have written to the Prime Minister saying it is an "affront to democracy" that the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) has not be reconvened in over six months, the longest break since the key body was set up in 1994.

The ISC which provides oversight of security services and other national security bodies had produced a report on Russian interference in October, but Downing Street failed to given the publication the greenlight before the December general election.

But in the letter, the group said the failure to re-establish the committee in the new Parliament raised "further questions" about why Mr Johnson was so "reluctant" for the report to be released.

"The publication last month of the latest donations to the Conservative party has highlighted once again the party’s deep connections to Russian oligarchs, raising further questions as to why you are so reluctant to reconstitute the ISC," they wrote.

"According to the Hansard Society, ‘at nearly six months, the time taken to appoint the ISC on this occasion has now exceeded that taken to appoint the committee after every previous general election since the committee was established in 1994’.

"It is untenable for you to continue to block the publication of the Russia report. The situation is an affront to democracy."

Number 10 are ultimately responsible for appointing nine of the ISC's members, with opposition parties asked to nominate MPs to sit on the group.

But according to The Times, the formation has been delayed further after Number 10 removed Tory MP Theresa Villiers as a potential member for disloyalty after she defied the party whip in a vote on post-Brexit food standards.

Labour's shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said the delay was "deeply worrying".

"This delay has meant that important work, like the report on the Russian threat to the UK, is not being published, which is a major concern," he said.

"The government must urgently get a grip, so that the committee can start working again."

Meawhile, the SNP's Westminster leader Ian Blackford, who previously sat on the committee, accused Mr Johnson of "repeatedly and intentionally" blocking the formation of the group in order to "escape scrutiny" on intelligence matters.

He said: "The foreign secretary publicly warned of these growing security threats, stating that hostile governments are using the challenges thrown up by the global pandemic to take advantage of 'a perceived opportunity'."

Responding to the comments, a Downing Street spokesperson said: "Work to establish the committee is ongoing and as quickly as current circumstances allow, and further announcements will be made in due course.

"The Investigatory Powers Act allows the UK to maintain one of the most stringent security regimes in the world through the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal and both executive and judicial oversight".

Read the most recent article written by John Johnston - Keir Starmer hits out at 'political move' to televise Downing Street press briefings

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