Intelligence and Security Committee: Russia report to be published within days
Iran Press TV
Thursday, 16 July 2020 3:54 PM
The report into Russian influence in UK politics, which has been suppressed for over nine months by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, is to be published before July 22, when parliament breaks up for the summer.
The nine-member Intelligence and Security Committee ISC has announced the report shall be published before July 22, when parliament breaks up for the summer.
The unanimous decision by the ISC comes a day after Boris Johnson was humiliated by the defeat of his chosen candidate to chair the influential committee, former cabinet minister Chris Grayling.
Mr Johnson, despite earlier assurances by Downing Street that it was for the committee and not the prime minister to select its chair, dismissed long-standing Conservative MP Julian Lewis from the party whip on Wednesday after he successfully stood against Mr Grayling in a vote of ISC members.
Dr Lewis today condemned as "improper" No 10's attempt to install the former cabinet minister, nicknamed "failing Grayling" after a series of mishaps as justice and transport secretary.
In a statement after its first meeting under Dr Lewis's leadership, the ISC said: "The committee has unanimously agreed this morning that it will publish the report on Russia prepared by its predecessor before the House rises for the summer recess. There will be no further comment."
The report, completed last March under Dr Lewis's predecessor Dominic Grieve and presented to Mr Johnson in October last year, is understood to contain details of the Kremlin's attempt to gain influence in the higher echelons of UK politics and to influence the outcome of votes like the 2016 EU election.
Mr Johnson has persistently delayed its publication by first refusing to clear it for publication before December's general election and then by waiting seven further months before nominating new members to the ISC. This has led to speculation that it contains highly embarrassing details of links between wealthy Russians and the Conservative Party.
Member of Parliament for New Forest East, Dr Lewis, said he did not respond to a call to vote for Grayling in yesterday's ballot, as 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.pol
"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," he said.
"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."
A senior government source said Dr Lewis had had the Conservative whip withdrawn because he had been "working with Labour and other opposition MPs for his own advantage".
There have been widespread reports of a concerted effort to get the Tories on the committee to vote for Mr Grayling, despite Downing Street having publicly declared it did not have a favoured candidate for the post.
"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," he said.
"It is therefore strange to have the whip removed for failing to vote for the government's preferred candidate."
Mr Johnson's choice of Mr Grayling to head the ISC – which oversees the work of the intelligence agencies MI5, MI6 and GCHQ – drew heavy criticism from across the political spectrum because of his lack of experience in security matters.
Dr Lewis, on the other hand, is a former chairman of the Commons Defence Committee who has taken a close interest in defence and security issues throughout his time in Parliament.
In a further blow to the Prime Minister, Dr Lewis's local Conservative association declared its "full support" for the MP.
In a statement, the chairman of New Forest East Conservatives, James Hartley-Binns, said: "Julian has acted no differently to when he democratically won the chairmanship of the Defence Select Committee in 2015.
"Our association is therefore disappointed and dismayed in any attempt to remove the party whip".
Sir Malcolm Rifkind, former ISC chair, blamed Mr Johnson's "incompetence" for the fiasco that saw his hand-picked choice for the chair defeated.
"I think the prime minister is the author of his own misfortune," said the Conservative former foreign secretary.
It was set down in an Act of Parliament that the chair was chosen by the nine nominated members, with No 10 having "no role", he explained.
"The idea of using the whips to try and force Conservative members to vote for a particular candidate goes totally against the way in which the committee has – under statute – operated since it began," Sir Malcolm said.
"The prime minister or his advisers, whoever was dealing with it, has handled this in an extremely incompetent way."
The committee is seen as increasingly important as the intelligence agencies gain greater powers to intercept and hold data, and amid growing concerns about the activities of Russia and China.
Committee members are given privileged access to classified information and receive confidential briefings by security chiefs, but decide themselves which controversies to pursue.
Sir Malcolm said he did not know if Mr Johnson's top aide Dominic Cummings was behind the original plot, but added: "If it had succeeded, that destroys the whole purpose of the intelligence and security committee."
"Whoever is advising him deserves to be stripped of their responsibility at this very moment."
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