Julian Lewis says Boris Johnson made an ‘improper request’ over intelligence committee vote

Boris Johnson in the House of Commons. Photograph: Jessica Taylor/House of Commons.

Boris Johnson in the House of Commons. Photograph: Jessica Taylor/House of Commons. - Credit: Archant

MP Julian Lewis has said that the prime minister does not have the right to choose the chairman of the Commons Intelligence and Security Committee and asking committee members to vote for his preferred candidate was an 'improper request'.

Dr Julian Lewis secured the role despite widespread expectation that Chris Grayling would receive the backing of the Conservative-dominated Intelligence and Security Committee.

In a move that caught Westminster by surprise, the Tory leadership then took disciplinary action against Dr Lewis as sources said the MP had 'acted with the opposition for his own advantage'.

In a statement to the PA news agency, Lewis said: 'Because the ISC (Intelligence and Security Committee) is a special committee, I feel constrained in what I can say.

'However, the following points are relevant:


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1) The 2013 Justice and Security Act explicitly removed the right of the prime minister to choose the ISC chairman and gave it to the committee members. I remember this well, as I served on the committee from 2010 to 2015 and took part of the legislation through the Commons myself on behalf of the committee. There is no other Conservative MP in the House of Commons with any past experience of working on the ISC.

2) It was only yesterday afternoon that I received a text asking me to confirm that I would be voting for the prime minister's preferred candidate for the ISC chair. I did not reply as I considered it an improper request. At no earlier stage did I give any undertaking to vote for any particular candidate.

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3) In recent days, the official No 10 spokesman explicitly denied that the government was seeking to 'parachute' a preferred candidate in to the chair, stating that it was a matter for the senior parliamentarians on the committee to decide.

'It is therefore strange to have the whip removed for failing to vote for the government's preferred candidate.'

The statement contradicts Number 10 previous denial of any interference in the independent committee's matters.

Earlier business secretary Alok Sharma refused to be drawn on the decision to remove the Tory whip from Julian Lewis after he was elected chairman.

'That is a matter for the whips, that is not something for me,' Sharma told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

'The whole point of that committee is to provide oversight, to provide scrutiny, and that will continue.

'With reference to any individuals in the parliamentary party, I can only repeat that that is really a matter for the whips rather for me. I have not been involved in any of these discussions.'

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