John Bercow has slammed Boris Johnson and Tory whips over their attack on the new Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) chair after he sidestepped them to take the role, labelling it as a case of ‘juvenile bed-wetting’.
The former speaker of the House of Commons described Downing Street’s revenge campaign against Julian Lewis, a Tory MP and Brexit backer, as an example of Johnson’s team ‘throwing their toys out of the pram’.
Lewis angered Number 10 when he teamed up with Labour and the SNP to sidestep Chris Grayling – Johnson’s preferred candidate – to become the next ISC chair.
The move prompted Tory whips to kick Lewis out of the parliamentary party.
The committee chair is elected by its members and laws prohibit any outside interference in that process.
‘If the prime minister didn’t know the provisions of the 2013 Justice and Security Act, that is itself frankly disturbing,’ Bercow told Sky News.
‘If he did… but chose nevertheless to interfere in this albeit clumsy and ham-fisted but rather Etonian fashion, that is truly disgraceful.
‘The government has made a complete exhibition of itself.’
Bercow, who stepped down as speaker earlier this year, hit out at the prime minister’s suggestion that Grayling was the best fit for the job.
‘Chris Grayling manifestly was not qualified to discharge the responsibilities – he knows nothing particularly about intelligence and security,’ the former Tory MP said.
‘And nice chap though he is, his whole track record shows anything he touches turns to disaster.
‘He is congenitally incapable of seeing a problem without making it very considerably worse.
‘Frankly the government and the prime minister ought to know when they are beaten and back off.’
He ended with an attack on Tory whips for dumping Lewis from the party, accusing them of ‘throwing their toys out of the pram’ and of ‘juvenile bed-wetting’.
‘They’ve picked on the wrong man here – they’re not going to outdo him,’ he claimed.
‘He’s quicker, he’s sharper, he’s brighter and he’s a person of unimpeachable integrity who will serve the committee and the House of Commons with distinction.’
A senior government source explained that Lewis had lost the whip for ‘working with Labour and other opposition MPs for his own advantage’.
Lewis stunned Westminster when a last minute declaration for the chairmanship saw him voted in 5-4 due to the support of Labour and the SNP committee members.
The ISC oversees the work of the UK’s intelligence community and is responsible for releasing the Russia report, which it vowed to do by July 22, when Westminster breaks up for the summer.