PM criticised over failing to establish intelligence committee

20 June 2020, 15:05

The PM has faced criticism for not setting up the committee sooner
The PM has faced criticism for not setting up the committee sooner. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

The Prime Minister has been accused of trying to dodge oversight by failing to set up Parliament's intelligence watchdog, with one MP saying the "decision to delay nominations to the committee raises serious ethical questions."

Whitehall's Intelligence and Security Committee is the body which oversees the work of the intelligence community and has been unable to publish a controversial report into allegations of Russian interference in British democracy because it has not sat since before the December election.

This is the longest break since it was established in 1994 and other committees which scrutinise the work of Government departments have been working for months.

The report was produced last October, but it did not receive sign off from No 10 before the election.

A report in The Times newspaper said Boris Johnson has further delayed the formation of the committee by removing one member for disloyalty, claims which Downing Street has not denied.

Labour's shadow security minister, Conor McGinn, branded the committee's continued absence was "deeply worrying".

"This delay has meant that important work, like the report on the Russian threat to the UK, is not being published, which is a major concern," he said.

"The government needs to take urgent action to get the committee back to work."

Reportedly former Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers was said to have been barred from becoming a member by defying the Tory whip in a vote aimed at banning the import of chlorinated chicken in a trade deal with the US.

The Time reported committee members must be security vetted so replacing her is expected to prolong the delay.

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Alistair Carmichael said: "Given the Prime Minister has for nine months sat on the intelligence committee report into Russian interference of our democracy, his decision to delay nominations to the committee raises serious ethical questions.

"This unprecedented underhand behaviour is utterly reprehensible. It leaves the public in little doubt that Boris Johnson is avoiding the truth about the Tory Party's funding connections to Russian oligarchs."

The PM has reportedly lined up former Cabinet minister Chris Grayling, who has been dubbed "failing Grayling" for his involvement in numerous controversies, to chair the ISC.

One of the new chairman's first tasks will be to publish the report compiled by the ISC in the last parliament on Russian interference in the UK.

A Downing Street spokeswoman said: "Work to establish the committee is ongoing and as quickly as current circumstances allow, and further announcements will be made in due course.

"The Investigatory Powers Act allows the UK to maintain one of the most stringent scrutiny regimes in the world through the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal and both executive and judicial oversight."