Russia report chair demands assurance No10 advisers won’t interfere with committee

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The chair of the committee behind the Russia report has demanded assurances Number 10 advisers won’t try to interfere with the body.

Julian Lewis, who was turfed out of the Tory party for winning the chairmanship over Boris Johnson’s favoured candidate, wants a pledge Downing Street cronies won’t try nobble the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC).

Speaking in an urgent debate folowing the publication of the report, Mr Lewis called for a commitment that no party political special advisers will be allowed “anywhere near” the ISC.

He 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 Government tried to sack the secretariat and make political appointments.

“Will my right honourable friend (Tory Security Minister James Brokenshire), 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 the Intelligence and Security Committee?”

Mr Brokenshire responded: “He can certainly have my assurances 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.”

Labour chairwoman of the home affairs select committee Yvette Cooper asked again for Mr Brokenshire to rule out interference from political advisers.

She said: “Will he now 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 to him, will he rule that out now, yes or no?”

Mr Brokenshire replied: “I’m very clear on the need for independence by the ISC…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 (she) can have my assurance in terms of the steps that I take to uphold that.”

Earlier, Labour leader Keir Starmer demanded to know why the Prime Minister “sat” on the Intelligence and Security Committee report into Russian interference in UK politics for 10 months – and why the Government had not filled gaps in the UK’s national security legislation.

Labour former minister Ben Bradshaw accused Mr Johnson of “knowingly and repeatedly put his own personal and party interests before the national security” by delaying publication of the ISC report.

Mr Johnson, who was the Brexit campaign figurehead in the run-up to the EU referendum four years ago, insisted he took “the strongest possible action” against Russia when he was Foreign Secretary.

And he again ruled out ordering an inquiry into possible Russian interference in the 2016 poll – instead blasting the “rage and fury of the Remainer elite”.

Dismissing claims the Kremlin might have helped sway the EU vote, he claimed: “Let’s be in no doubt what this is really all about – this is about pressure from the Islingtonian Remainers who have seized on this report to try to give the impression that Russian interference was somehow responsible for Brexit. That’s what this is all about.

“The people of this country didn’t vote to leave the EU because of pressure from Russia or Russian interference, they voted because they wanted to take back control of our money, our trade policy and our laws.”

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