Julian Lewis slams ‘improper’ bid to impose PM’s choice as head of security committee

Mr Lewis was expelled from the parliamentary Conservative Party on Wednesday. Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

The new chair of Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee has condemned Downing Street’s attempt to impose its “preferred candidate” to lead the committee.

Backbench MP Julian Lewis said he did not respond to a call to vote for former cabinet minister Chris Grayling as he considered it to be an “improper request”.

Mr Lewis was expelled from the parliamentary Conservative Party on Wednesday after securing the prestigious ISC chairmanship with the support of opposition members.

In a statement, he said that 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.

Mr Lewis said: "Because the ISC is a special committee, I feel constrained in what I can say."

But added: "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.

"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."

The MP said Number 10 had "explicitly denied that the government was seeking to 'parachute' a preferred candidate in to the chair".

Adding: "It is therefore strange to have the whip removed for failing to vote for the government's preferred choice of candidate."

Speaking during a visit to Nottinghamshire, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said of the Intelligence and Security Committee chairmanship issue: "I didn't know what was going to happen.

"It's an independent committee, they choose their own chair and they obviously chose to reject the imposition by the Prime Minister of his preferred chair on them.

"That's a matter for them. We should respect the decision they came to."

Sir Keir added: "It's a very important committee looking at issues of national security and intelligence - key issues.

"It's for them to choose their chair. We should respect that, not complain about it."