Minister Tries To Quell Fears Cummings Could Interfere With Intel Committee

It comes after claims the PM's top adviser tried to replace the intelligence and security committee's staff with political appointees.

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A senior minister has attempted to quell fears that Boris Johnson’s top adviser Dominic Cummings could interfere with the work of the independent intelligence and security committee (ISC).

Following the publication of its long-delayed Russia report on Tuesday, ISC chair Julian Lewis raised concerns about claims Cummings attempted to sack officials supporting the committee and replace them with political appointees.

The ISC works differently from other parliamentary committees due to the sensitivity of its work scrutinising the intelligence agencies, with the government taking a role in the nomination of its members, who then elect a chair. The committee is supported by an independent secretariat.

Under repeated pressure from MPs, security minister James Brokenshire said he did not want to see the independence of the ISC being called into question.

It comes after Boris Johnson rejected the Russia report’s key recommendation – that the government should assess whether Moscow tried to meddle in the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Lewis also angered Downing Street last week and was sacked from the Tory Party when he moved to take the committee’s chair ahead of the government’s favoured candidate Chris Grayling, with the help of Labour and SNP votes.

During an urgent question in the Commons on Wednesday, Lewis called for a categorical commitment that political special advisers like Cummings would not interfere in the committee’s work.

The now-independent MP said: “The Russia report could not have been produced to this high standard without the dedication, the expertise and above all the objectivity of the ISC’s brilliant staff, some of whom I’ve worked with previously.

“Yet according to the journalist, Tim Walker, some people within the government tried to sack the secretariat and make political appointments.

“Will my right honourable friend, as I still regard him, resist the temptation to fob us off with cliches about not believing everything you read in the media, and give this House now a categorical commitment that no party political special advisers will be allowed anywhere near the intelligence and security committee?”

Brokenshire responded: “He will recall that he and I shared the bill committee establishing the ISC and he will know the weight and consideration I give to it and indeed the work of those officials and those who work to support its activities, its inquiries and its investigations.

“He can certainly have my assurances as to the weight and the support that I give to his committee.

“I commend the work of the previous committee that has produced this report which is subject to this urgent question.

“I’d also commend all members of the committee for the work, the robust and rigorous work, that I know that they will do during the course of this parliament.”

Liberal Democrat former government chief whip then insisted that Brokenshire “did not answer the question” from Lewis.

Brokenshire responded: “I was very clear as to the weight and the importance of the independent scrutiny that the ISC provides and why from my perspective and the government’s perspective we will always examine and reflect carefully on the incredibly important work and the importance of that being conducted in the independent way that the ISC has always fulfilled its role and responsibility.”

Labour MP and Commons home affairs committee chair Yvette Cooper then urged Brokenshire to “rule out any attempt at government interference in the work of the ISC, any political appointments to its secretariat, any special advisers to be appointed”.

Brokenshire replied: “I’m very clear on the need for independence by the ISC as I have responded to in previous questions.

“Certainly I do not want to see the sense of that question of its independence being drawn into any doubt.

“It is important that the ISC is independent and rigorous and the right honourable lady can have my assurance in terms of the steps that I take to uphold that.”