Russia report row: Dominic Grieve accuses PM of using No 10 'to spread propaganda and disinformation'

6 November 2019, 21:16 | Updated: 6 November 2019, 22:37

Boris Johnson uses Downing Street to “spread propaganda and disinformation” in a way that raises doubts about his fitness for office, a former Conservative attorney general has said.

Dominic Grieve, now an independent MP, was the head of an influential parliamentary committee that compiled a report on the threat posed to the UK by Russia, which Mr Johnson failed to approve for publication prior to the dissolution of parliament this week.

He told Sky News that he could see no valid reason for the government's refusal to approve the release of the findings, which cover the threat posed by the Kremlin to British elections.

MI6, MI5 and GCHQ have already cleared the 50-page file as safe to publish.

The blocking of the report called into doubt the point of having an Intelligence and Security Committee at all, Mr Grieve said.

The senior, cross-party group of MPs and peers is unique among all parliamentary committees because its members have access to top secret intelligence, but the reports it produces can only be published once approval is given by the prime minister.

The former attorney general suggested a change in the law might be required to prevent a future prime minister from blocking the publication of future reports without good reason.

"I have real concerns about the committee being sidelined in this way after many months of work," he said.

Mr Grieve, who disagrees strongly with the prime minister over his approach to Brexit, accused Mr Johnson of falling short of the behaviour of a leader based on the way the Russia report was handled and other issues such as the proroguing of parliament.

"I have to accept I have policy differences with him and that may colour my view, but quite independently of that I worry about the way he exercises his judgement and the way he uses the Number 10 operation to shore it up," he said.

"We have had numerous instances now since he became prime minister of firstly his doing things which are grossly improper... and secondly a pattern of using Number 10 and spokesmen at Number 10 to spread propaganda and disinformation that can only be described in some cases as blatantly untrue.

"That is a complete novelty. Even in the worse days of Labour governments I don't remember this sort of thing happening in this particular fashion. If it continues to go unchecked or he doesn't change his approach to this, it raises really serious issues in my mind about his fitness for office."

Asked if he was saying he did not believe Mr Johnson was fit to serve, Mr Grieve said: "I don't find him a person who inspires in me any confidence as to his fitness for office.

"There is something about this prime minister that really bothers me because in a democracy a prime minister who cannot be relied on as to his truthfulness really at anytime is somebody who is going to create a lot of problems for all those around him and for our country as a whole."

Mr Grieve has hit out at the government over the past week for failing to approve the release of the Russia report.

He said it would have provided valuable information to the public on the Russia threat ahead of the general election, at a time of concern about Moscow's ability to interfere with democratic processes in countries such as in the US.

"With that in mind clearly it is going to be of interest to the public to have an understanding of what we know about what has been happening here, and what the risks are of what might happen here - and that is what this report is all about," Mr Grieve said.

Christopher Pincher, a minister of state at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, on Tuesday defended the government's decision not to release the report.

He told MPs: "We want to ensure this report is given proper consideration, careful consideration. Any further changes or questions may be made to it... then a properly balanced report can be published."

Mr Grieve said he had no idea what the minister was talking about.

He said the prime minister - who received the document on 17 October - had more than the normal 10 days to look through its content. If there had been any problem, he should have communicated the reason for the hold up to the committee. That did not happen.

"It is beyond my understanding as to what the valid objection is to the publication of this report," the former attorney general said.

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