More than a dozen Tory MPs rebel in bid to hold government to account over failings

Labour MP accuses government of 'shameful' behaviour

Kate Devlin
Whitehall Editor
Wednesday 20 May 2020 19:53
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Boris Johnson accuses Keir Starmer of being 'negative'.mp4

More than a dozen Tory MPs rebelled against Boris Johnson’s government last night in a row over how the Commons holds the government to account.

MPs failed in their attempt to prevent a Tory MP handpicked by Downing Street being elected chairman of a powerful select committee, whose sole task is to interrogate the prime minister.

But 16 Tory MPs, including former cabinet minister Jeremy Hunt, rebelled to back an amendment tabled by Labour’s Harriet Harman against the move.

Mother of the House Ms Harman called the appointment of Tory MP Sir Bernard Jenkin, a key member of Vote Leave campaign, as the chairman of the Liaison Committee "shameful".

But Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Commons Leader, defended Sir Bernard and said he had a track record of "robustly holding the government to account".

Sir Bernard, the MP for Harwich and North Essex, promised he would serve "independently and impartially" and said his first priority will be calling Mr Johnson to give evidence to the committee.

SNP MP Tommy Sheppard warned: "Few people bite the hand that feeds them."

He added: "There is a pattern emerging here - it shows a Government trying to mute criticism by procedural means, a Government running scared of accountability, and it is not a good look."

Mr Rees-Mogg defended the decision to use the government’s majority in the Commons to effectively impose Sir Bernard in the job, saying the MP had "never viewed himself as a vassal of the whips".

Sir Bernard himself said he has "no wish except to serve the House and the committees".

"I appreciate others' concerns in this debate, but if the House so decides, I will serve as chair independently and impartially," he said.

The committee is made up of the chairman of other Commons select committee. In previous years the chair of the Liaison Committee has always been chosen from among the committee’s existing members.

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