security

Chris Grayling closes in on role as chair of powerful intelligence committee


The accident-prone former cabinet minister Chris Grayling is expected to be appointed as chair of the powerful intelligence and security committee (ISC) next week after the Conservatives announced four other members who are expected to support him.

The former transport and justice secretary has long been Boris Johnson’s pick for the job but the plan has been partly disrupted by months of wrangling as the Tories searched for colleagues willing to vote for him.

Grayling was one of five Conservative MPs announced as members of the nine-person committee on Thursday night. It oversees MI5, MI6 and GCHQ and has the power to release the delayed Russia report, postponed from before the election.

The others on the committee are the Conservative MPs Theresa Villiers, Sir John Hayes, Julian Lewis and Mark Pritchard, the Labour MPs Kevan Jones and Diana Johnson, the SNP MP Stewart Hosie and the Labour peer Lord West.

Ian Blackford, the SNP leader at Westminster, said: “It is then deeply concerning that the latest plan devised by Dominic Cummings and Boris Johnson will aim to parachute Chris Grayling as chair of the committee by putting forward favourable Tory members who will vote him through as chair.”

Opposition nominees were attempting to organise a rearguard action to block Grayling’s appointment, although that would require a Conservative to defect. Normally the Tories would have nominated a peer as a member, but the concern was that any nominee might be less likely to support the former minister.

Grayling is best known as an error-prone minister who presided over the collapse of Northern and Thameslink rail services and the granting of a no-deal Brexit ferry contract to a company with no ships.

As justice secretary, he part-privatised the probation service and banned prisoners from receiving books from relatives, a measure that was overturned in the courts. He was also a prominent supporter of leave in the 2016 referendum campaign.

The nine members were listed on order papers for the House of Commons and House of Lords, and they are expected to be confirmed after short debates next Monday. Sources said the nine would meet shortly afterwards to confirm who would become chair.

It will then be up to the committee to decide whether to release the Russia report, which was blocked by Johnson before the election. It was cleared for release in December, shortly after his election victory, but its final publication remains dependent on the creation of the committee itself.

The former ISC chairman Dominic Grieve, who quit the Conservatives and lost his seat at the last election, has called on the committee to publish the Russia report in full as soon as possible, although the new members will have the power to re-edit it.

Downing Street has repeatedly said the report contains little that is revelatory, although others who have read it say it is a serious document worth scrutinising.

Earlier on Thursday, one minister shrugged off claims the government had “dragged its feet” over the publication of the Russia report. Speaking in the House of Lords, Lord True described it as a “delicate matter”. “It takes some time,” he said, saying the delay was not unusual.

The Liberal Democrat peer Paul Strasburger asked what the prime minister had done as foreign secretary when he was told of possible Russian interference in the 2016 EU referendum. Strasburger cited “alarming” evidence from the former MI6 officer Christopher Steele that the Kremlin had pushed for Brexit. “[This was] a serious attack by a hostile foreign power on the integrity of our democracy,” Strasburger said.

The government has said there is no evidence of significant Russian interference in British politics, and True rejected the Lib Dem peer’s claim. “The result of the referendum was in the hands of 17.4 million people who I don’t think were bamboozled by KGB agents,” he said.



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