Boris Johnson’s control freakery backfires– leader comment

Boris Johnson needs to realise the importance of independent scrutiny by the likes of the Intelligence and Security Committee.

Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street earlier this month (Picture: Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images)
Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street earlier this month (Picture: Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images)

Boris Johnson’s instinct to centralise power has already seen him lose a Chancellor with Sajid Javid choosing to resign rather than fire his aides and accept a joint advisory team with the Prime Minister. In a statement to MPs, Javid said the independence of the Treasury was important as it must be able to “speak truth to power”. And, in a telling joke, he quipped he did not wish to detail all the “comings and goings” of the disagreement – a clear reference to Johnson’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings.

Now the Government’s failed attempt to make Chris Grayling, a Brexiteer who supported Johnson’s leadership bid, the new chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) has once again showed Johnson’s desire to exert control over those who might cause him problems.

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Instead, Julian Lewis, a well-respected Conservative MP, was elected by Labour and SNP MPs on the committee and promptly had the Tory whip withdrawn for allegedly working with the opposition.

Lewis said he had received a text message asking him to confirm he would support the “Prime Minister’s preferred candidate for the ISC chair”, but had ignored what he considered “an improper request”.

Among the Conservatives alarmed by the Government’s actions were Malcolm Rifkind and Dominic Grieve, both former Cabinet ministers and chairs of the committee.

Rifkind told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the law was clear: the Prime Minister had no role in the choice of the committee chair, he said, adding that “whoever is advising him deserves to be stripped of their responsibility at this very moment”.

By their actions, Johnson and Cummings appear to be sending the message to their own party that they are either ‘with us or against us’ in a fairly unsophisticated way. They managed to sideline Javid, but the tactic backfired spectacularly when Lewis outsmarted them. What their bungled attempt to instal Grayling as their placeman has done is basically guaranteed that the ISC will have an especially independent chair.

And that is important, particularly as the committee is due to publish its delayed report into Russian interference in UK democracy next week. Perhaps it was just a coincidence but the Government published its own Russia report yesterday with a Downing Street spokesman saying any idea this was aimed to pre-empt the ISC’s findings was “nonsense”. With Lewis in the chair, we can expect to see if this stands up to independent scrutiny.

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