Minister tries to downplay concerns that Dominic Cummings is meddling with UK intelligence committee

PUBLISHED: 15:13 22 July 2020 | UPDATED: 15:25 22 July 2020

Intelligence and Security Committee chair Julian Lewis during an Urgent Question in the House of Commons; Twitter

Intelligence and Security Committee chair Julian Lewis during an Urgent Question in the House of Commons; Twitter

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A Tory minister has tried to allay fears that Dominic Cummings is trying to interfere with the parliamentary committee in charge of the Russia report.

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James Brokenshire tried dispel rumours brought forward by the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) chair Julian Lewis that the prime minister’s top advisor had tried to replace committee members with pro-Boris figures.

Following the release of the Russia report, Lewis - who had the Whip removed for sidestepping Chris Grayling to become chair - asked for clarification over a report by Tim Walker, a columnist for The New European, that Cummings had indeed tried to interfere with the ISC.

He told MPs during an Urgent Question session that “the Russia report could not have been produced to this high standard without the dedication, the expertise and above all the objectivity of the ISC’s brilliant staff, some of whom I’ve worked with previously.

“Yet according to the journalist, Tim Walker, some people within the government tried to sack the secretariat and make political appointments.”

“Will my right honourable friend,” Lewis said, referring to Brokenshire, “resist the temptation to fob us off with cliches about not believing everything you read in the media, and give this House now a categorical commitment that no party political special advisors will be allowed anywhere near the intelligence and security committee?”

Brokenshire responded: “He will recall that he and I shared the bill committee establishing the ISC and he will know the weight and consideration I give to it and indeed the work of those officials and those who work to support its activities, its inquiries and its investigations.

“He can certainly have my assurances as to the weight and the support that I give to his committee.”

Pressed for a clearer response from the Liberal Democrats, Brokenshire added: “I was very clear as to the weight and the importance of the independent scrutiny that the ISC provides and why from my perspective and the government’s perspective we will always examine and reflect carefully on the incredibly important work and the importance of that being conducted in the independent way that the ISC has always fulfilled its role and responsibility.”

Labour MP and Commons home affairs committee chair Yvette Cooper then urged Brokenshire to “rule out any attempt at government interference in the work of the ISC, any political appointments to its secretariat, any special advisers to be appointed”.

Brokenshire replied: “I’m very clear on the need for independence by the ISC as I have responded to in previous questions.

“Certainly I do not want to see the sense of that question of its independence being drawn into any doubt.

“It is important that the ISC is independent and rigorous and the right honourable lady can have my assurance in terms of the steps that I take to uphold that.”

The ISC works differently to other parliamentary committees owing to its job scrutinising the work done by Britain’s intelligence community.

The committee functions independent of government and members, who are appointed by the ministers, vote to appoint a chair.

Lewis beat Grayling, Downing Street’s preferred candidate, to the post, infuriating Johnson and his team and led to his eventual sacking from the Tory party.

The claim comes as Downing Street rejected one of the central findings of the Russia report that the country’s agents might have interfered in the Brexit referendum.

It has also turned down calls for an urgent investigation into possible Russian meddling in the vote after the report uncovered that ministers had ‘ignored’ the issue when the Russia probe initially launched.

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