10 July 2020

PM urged not to impose Grayling on intelligence watchdog

10 July 2020

Boris Johnson has been urged not to interfere in the election of the new chairman of Parliament’s intelligence watchdog.

The Prime Minister is widely believed to want former cabinet minister Chris Grayling to head the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) which oversees the work of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ.

The ex-transport secretary – dubbed “failing Grayling” following a series of policy gaffes – is one of nine MPs and peers nominated to serve on the ISC.

The Prime Minister nor anybody should be seeking to tell the committee who should be the chair

With the Conservatives enjoying a majority – with five places – there is concern at Westminster that the Tory members will be “whipped” to support Mr Johnson’s choice.

However the ISC chairman in the last parliament – former attorney general Dominic Grieve – said the Prime Minister should stay out of the election.

He said it was essential that the chairman could command cross-party respect and was seen to be independent of government.

“The whole point about this committee is it is non-partisan,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

“The Prime Minister nor anybody should be seeking to tell the committee who should be the chair, it is for the committee to decide under the statute which sets it up.

“I don’t have a view for who the right chair should be apart from the fact I’m absolutely clear in my mind it should be a matter for the committee and that the committee should not be put under party political pressure as to who the chair should be.”

Security (PA Archive)

The House of Commons and the House of Lords will vote on Monday and Tuesday on whether to endorse the nominees.

Once the membership of the committee has been confirmed by both Houses it will be up to the members to elect a chairman.

Mr Johnson has faced criticism over the delay in appointing the committee which has not met since the last parliament was dissolved in November last year.

The committee has yet to publish its long-awaited report into Russian interference in UK politics after Mr Johnson refused to clear it for release before last year’s general election.

Mr Grieve – who lost his seat at the election after having the Tory whip withdrawn over Brexit – said that even once the new committee was in place it could still be several weeks before the report was released.

He said the new committee would need to be inducted and then understand and approve the content of the report for which the evidence dated back to late 2018.

Former national security adviser Lord Ricketts said Mr Grayling does not “match up” to the authority and reputation of former chairs.

He told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme that previous committee chairmen had been “strong, independent-minded people with experience of the security community”.

“When I look at the track record of Mr Grayling – I don’t know him personally – he doesn’t seem to me to match up to the sort of authority and reputation of former chairs of the committee,” he said.

The other nominees to the committee are Tory MPs Theresa Villiers, Sir John Hayes, Julian Lewis and Mark Pritchard, Labour MPs Dame Diana Johnson and Kevan Jones, the Labour peer Admiral Lord West and the SNP MP Stewart Hosie.

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