Chris Grayling misses out on job chairing Westminster intelligence committee

Committee must now decide on publication of long-delayed report into Russian attempts to interfere in UK politics

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Wednesday 15 July 2020 18:33
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Dominic Grieve accuses Boris Johnson of suppressing secret report on Russian meddling in Brexit vote and UK polls

Boris Johnson’s preferred candidate Chris Grayling has missed out on the chairmanship of the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee after members elected Tory MP Julian Lewis.

The former cabinet minister – nicknamed “failing Grayling” after a string of mishaps as justice and transport secretary – had been expected to claim the job after Mr Johnson put forward a committee with a built-in Tory majority.

Dr Lewis’s first job will now be to decide on when – and if – to publish the long-delayed report completed by the committee last year under his predecessor Dominic Grieve into Russian efforts to interfere in UK politics.

The report was completed in March 2019 and passed on to Mr Johnson in October, but he prevented its publication ahead of the December general election by withholding his approval.

Although he subsequently gave the green light for it to be made public, parliamentary rules meant this could not happen until a new committee and chairman were appointed – something which was delayed for seven months after the election by Mr Johnson’s failure to put forward a list of nominees.

The PM’s actions have given rise to speculation that the report may contain embarrassing information about the links of wealthy Russians with the Conservative Party.

Downing Street has said that Mr Johnson now wants the report published “as soon as possible”, but it is unclear whether this will happen before parliament rises for its summer break on 22 July.

Unlike other Westminster committees, which report to parliament, the ISC reports directly to the prime minister, whose approval must be obtained for it to publish its findings.

Established in 1994, its chair has usually been a senior MP of the ruling party, including former foreign secretaries Margaret Beckett and Malcolm Rifkind and former defence secretary Tom King.

New Forest East MP Dr Lewis is the first ISC chair never to have held ministerial rank, though he chaired the Commons Defence Committee from 2015-19.

Downing Street previously declined to comment on reports that Tory MPs on the committee were being whipped to support Mr Grayling as chair.

Alongside Mr Grayling and Dr Lewis, other members of the committee include former Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers, ex-security minister Sir John Hayes and former member of the joint committee on national security strategy Mark Pritchard from the Conservative benches.

Labour members are former First Sea Lord Admiral Lord West, ex-shadow defence minister Kevan Jones and Dame Diana Johnson. The SNP is represented by Stewart Hosie, who with Mr Jones is one of just two members who were on the committee when the Russia report was drawn up.

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