Boris Johnson is once again in a bit of a flap after his attempt to impose his “preferred candidate” to head the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) was defeated in a coup from within his own party.
Backbench MP Julian Lewis demonstrated in spectacular fashion that he will not pander to will of the PM as he landed a role which gives him oversight of Britain’s intelligence agencies.
The immediate loser was Johnson’s pick for the role, Chris “Failing” Grayling, but the ramifications for the PM could potentially mean he has more to lose in the long term.
In short, Johnson wanted Grayling in the top job and Tory whips told its members on the ISC to vote for him.
Lewis considered this an “improper request” and voted for himself instead. The government then expelled him from the parliamentary Conservative Party because he had been “working with Labour and other opposition MPs for his own advantage”.
Why is the government so upset?
Although it’s not been publicly acknowledged, it’s widely believed the government was very keen to keep a secret report examining Russian influence in British politics well, secret.
And less than 24 hours after Lewis landed the job, the ISC announced it would be made public next week.
So what exactly is all the fuss about?
Why was the Russia report commissioned?
Russian interference into the US presidential election of 2016 is well-documented and Robert Mueller’s Special Counsel investigation even indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies on charges related to attempt to influence the vote.
As a result, the UK government thought it proper to establish if similar had occurred in public votes in Britain.
And did it?
We don’t know – the report was submitted to the government before publication to ensure no sensitive information is inadvertently made public.
Although vetting is standard procedure for such documents, a row has broken out over how long the process should take.
Dominic Grieve, the former committee chair, said last year the report was sent to the prime minister for approval on October 17. The former attorney said the process was normally completed within 10 working days and accused the government of “sitting on the report”.
However, the timescale was disputed by government sources who said that it usually took six weeks.
Yet that was over seven months ago and it is still not public.
Why would the government delay the publication?
Now that time has passed, critics are simply assuming it has still not been released because it is very embarrassing for the government.
And is it?
We don’t know yet although there have been some possible clues.
The Sunday Times claimed last year that nine Russian business people who gave money to the Tory Party are named in the report in what is the first major leak from the publication.
This is very different from the kind of interference seen during the US presidential election but would obviously be hugely embarrassing for Boris Johnson and his government.
The Sunday Times claims Alexander Temerko, who formerly worked for the Kremlin’s defence ministry, is named after donating more than £1.2m to the party and describing Boris Johnson as a “friend”.
Meanwhile, major Tory donor Lubov Chernukhin, wife of former Vladimir Putin ally Vladimir Chernukhin, is also said to be included in the report.
Chernukin has handed the party over £450,000 in the past 12 months, and famously paid £160,000 during a Conservative fund raising event to play a tennis match with Johnson.
When do we find out what’s in it?
On Thursday morning it was announced the long-awaited report would be published by next Wednesday after the first sitting of the ISC under the leadership of Lewis.
A spokesperson for the ISC said: “The committee has unanimously agreed this morning that it will publish the report on Russia prepared by its predecessor before the house rises for the summer recess.
“There will be no further comment.”