Tory MP Crispin Blunt had a ‘Michael Howard’ moment on BBC Newsnight last night as he repeatedly dodged a question over whether he tried to sabotage a vote calling on arms sales to Saudi Arabia to be stopped.
Blunt, who is chairman of parliament’s Arms Export Committee, is furious that the programme got hold of a draft copy of a report into whether UK-made weapons are being used against civilians in Yemen.
The Reigate MP even called for private investigators to be brought in to discover who leaked the report to the BBC.
Appearing on the show on Thursday night, Blunt repeatedly refused to answer questions about whether he tried to water down one of the reports conclusions, which claimed there was “very serious evidence” the Saudi Arabia-led coalition was violating international law in Yemen.
After a testy exchange with Newsnight presenter Kirsty Wark over the issue, Blunt then dodged the question of whether he had sabotaged a meeting of the committee that was set to reject the amendments by walking out.
“That betrays a misunderstanding of how this particular collection of four committees works,” he replied.
After being pressed again on whether had walked out of the meeting, and therefore preventing a vote on the report, Blunt said: “I am not going to talk about a committee process that is still under consideration.”
The interview had echoes of the 1997 interview where Jeremy Paxman put a question to former Tory Home Secretary Michael Howard 12 times without getting a clear answer.
According to Newsnight, the Committee, which is made up of 16 MPs from four select committees, was going to recommend a halt in arms sales to Saudi Arabia, while a probe into accusations of human rights breaches in Yemen is launched.
Blunt and Labour MP John Spellar are believed to have tabled more than 130 amendments to the report, including removing the call for a suspension of arms sales.
Blunt said that since the programme revealed the draft report, he and Spellar had received 26,000 emails, many telling him to “F... off”.
Earlier this week, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said there would be no change in Government policy regarding weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, insisting the “key test” on international humanitarian rights for halting arms sales had not been met.