An MP has been kicked out of the Conservative parliamentary party after he worked with opposition MPs to get elected to a top committee.
Julian Lewis, Tory MP for New Forest East since 1997, on Wednesday secured the chairmanship of the Intelligence and Security Committee ahead of No. 10′s favoured candidate, Chris Grayling.
The rebel Conservative was picked by a nine-strong committee when it met for the first time after a seven month delay in its establishment.
The committee, which oversees all of the UK’s intelligence agencies including MI6, MI5 and GCHQ, will now have to decide when to publish the long-delayed “Russia report” into Moscow’s influence in British elections and politics.
Lewis, a former chairman of the Commons defence select committee and a former member of the ISC, voted for himself in what was seen as a “coup” by Labour and SNP members.
After the appointment, a Tory source confirmed that Lewis had had the party whip removed for “working with Labour and other opposition MPs for his own advantage”.
Boris Johnson was widely believed to want former transport secretary Grayling to become the chairman of the body.
With the Conservatives enjoying a majority – with five out of nine places on the committee – there had been concern at Westminster that the Tory members would be “whipped” to support Grayling despite concerns about his expertise.
As well as Grayling and Lewis, the members of the ISC are Tory MPs Theresa Villiers, Sir John Hayes and Mark Pritchard, Labour MPs Dame Diana Johnson and Kevan Jones, the Labour peer Admiral Lord West and the SNP MP Stewart Hosie.
Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Alistair Carmichael said Johnson had appointed “yes men” to the ISC but “true to form, however, failing Grayling has been undone in his bid to be chair”.
“I hope we now have a committee with real teeth that can hold this Government to account,” he added.
“That starts by publishing the report into Russian interference of our democracy before the summer recess so MPs can scrutinise it fully.”
Labour MPs were among the first to react to the news on social media.
The party’s deputy leader Angela Rayner tweeted: “Julian Lewis MP has the Tory Whip removed after being elected as Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Select Committee, after beating hapless Chris Grayling. I wonder who in No10 ordered that the long serving Tory MP had the whip removed? What a grubby shower they are!”
Labour former frontbencher Chris Bryant said: “It’s a momentous failure of intelligence when a PM takes months to handpick Intelligence and Security Committee members so as to deliver the Chair he wants and they refuse to do his bidding. To then chuck the new chairman out of the party is to lose control/the plot.”
And Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy said: “Remarkable. It doesn’t stop Julian being chair of committee or sympathy for him across house. It does make it more likely the long overdue report into Russian interference in our political system is published. A set of own goals of which even Sunderland would be proud ….”