Any hope Boris Johnson may have had that he could further delay or hide the revelations in the so-called ‘Russia Report’ on interference by that country in UK politics must now be gone.
And that’s a good thing for British democracy!
A panicking Johnson furiously threw Julian Lewis out of the Parliamentary Conservative Party after he joined Labour and SNP members of the new Intelligence and Security committee to get himself elected as its chair instead of Johnson’s choice, the incompetent Chris ‘Failing’ Grayling.
And it seems Johnson is considering attempting to have Lewis removed from the committee altogether.
But Lewis has moved too fast for it to make a difference. The committee met today (July 16) and ordered that the Russia Report will be published within the next week – before Parliament rises for the summer.
It has been suggested that the report contains details that are embarrassing for the Tories – or at least for Boris Johnson. But the government has claimed that political considerations were not involved.
However (1): while it is true that Downing Street cleared the report for publication last November, Downing Street also ordered a general election, meaning that the previous Intelligence and Security committee, that would have overseen its publication, was disbanded and nothing could be done until the new committee was set up.
However (2): the creation of the new committee was delayed by eight months while Parliament waited for Boris Johnson to nominate MPs to be its members.
However (3): if there are no political considerations, why remove the Conservative whip from Lewis after his so-called ‘coup’? This committee does not operate on political lines – it was established by an Act of Parliament and must act impartially – so it is inappropriate for Johnson to claim that Lewis acted for political gain, and far more likely that, in doing so, it was in the interests of his own well-being.
However (4): it has been suggested that Johnson may now put a motion before Parliament to remove Lewis from the committee he now chairs, in order to replace him as chair with another Tory (not Grayling, who seems to be backing out) of Johnson’s choice. This really would be seen as political interference as it would indicate beyond doubt that Johnson wants to control, for his own purposes, a committee that is intended to be impartial.
He would be better-off leaving well alone.
But it seems a lot of damage has already been done.
Former Tory Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind has verbally attacked Johnson, just for removing the Tory whip from Lewis.
He said: “The Act of Parliament is quite clear the Prime Minister has no role in the choice of the chairman of the committee
“Once the committee has been appointed it is for the committee itself to decide its chairman.
“The idea of using the Whips to try and force Conservative members to vote for a particular candidate goes totally against the way the committee under statute has operated since it began.
“It’s never been a partisan committee, I think the Prime Minister has handled this – or his advisers whoever is dealing with it – in an extremely incompetent way.”
And he continued, damningly: “What I most object to, was the attempt of Prime Minister and the government or whoever, Dominic Cummings, whoever is involved in these things I don’t know, to try to control the way the intelligence committee operates by choosing for its chairman and putting pressure on MPs to make him chairman.
“If they had succeeded, that destroys the whole purpose of the Intelligence and Security Committee. It is a unique committee. They are the only people who have access to the highest levels of intelligence.
“They need the confidence of the intelligence agencies and of Parliament. If they are thought to be creatures of government they have no authority to do the job that the law requires them to do.”
So with the committee chaired by Lewis, it actually has more authority than under anyone chosen by Boris Johnson. So much for his claim that it’s Lewis who was politically-motivated!
Sir Malcolm Rifkind’s intervention suggests a deeper problem for Johnson, though:
The Conservative Party still has a strong contingent of members who believe very firmly that the UK should be the most powerful country in the world and they should be running it because that makes them the most powerful people in the world.
The implication that the Russia Report has been suppressed because it indicates some form of collusion – of subservience – by representatives of their party to Russia is anathema to them.
They want to know the facts – now – so they can work out what to do about Johnson.
His troubles may be only just beginning.
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