Boris Johnson will face the House of Commons scrutiny committee on Wednesday, but critical Tory MPs have been excluded, and attendees will have just minutes to discuss senior aide Dominic Cummings.
It is understood MPs will be given fewer than twenty minutes in a 90-minute session to probe the prime minister on the biggest story of the week when he appears before the Commons Liaison Committee.
Other elements of the coronavirus response are also expected to be discussed in that time slot.
Among those questioning the PM will be Labour chairwoman of the Home Affairs Committee Yvette Cooper, and Tory chairman of the Health Committee Jeremy Hunt.
A number of senior Tory backbenchers, however, have complained they have been excluded from the ‘super committee’.
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Former minister Tobias Ellwood, chair of the Defence Select Committee, tweeted that he was looking forward to questioning the PM, then posted on social media later: ‘So I’m not invited to attend.’
He listed a number of questions he would have asked, including: ‘Why was no single situation centre established?’
Tom Tugendhat, one of the most prominent Tory critics of the prime minister and chairman of the foreign affairs committee, is also excluded.
It follows controversy over Bernard Jenkin’s appointment to chair the committee, with critics pointing out he is a Johnson ally who sat on the board of the Vote Leave campaign.
One select committee chairman told the Times: ‘Chairs are deeply unimpressed that his first efforts are to try and exclude key chairs in this way. It reflects the lack of independence that chairs were concerned about in allowing this appointment to go ahead. This is a sad start to what is supposed to a programme of scrutiny.’
Another backbench MP said: ‘Bernard has sold his soul and demonstrated that he will suck up to anyone for £16,000 a year [the salary for the liaison committee chairmanship].’
Asked about the situation regarding Cummings, chair Jenkin defended the move, claiming that the whole committee had agreed the format for the session.
He later told the PA news agency: ‘I have got no intention of preventing any subject any member of the committee wants to raise.’
But he said the ‘evidence session with the prime minister should, in its entirety, cover the government handling of the coronavirus pandemic’