Security must always trump grubby politics
TO protect Britain from terrorists, cyberhackers and hostile states, our intelligence agencies receive sweeping clandestine powers – the so-called ‘dark arts’.
The quid pro quo is that these watchers – MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, plus their masters in Government – are themselves watched by Parliament’s secretive Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC).
The importance of national security is so colossal that this watchdog is supposed to transcend grubby politics. No 10 should therefore be ashamed of its bungled attempt to hijack it. Contemptuously, Boris Johnson and his apparatchiks schemed to impose a lackey as chairman – Chris Grayling, whose disastrous Cabinet career earned him the sobriquet ‘Failing Grayling’.
To their fury, the plot backfired. Throwing a tantrum, No 10 promptly removed the whip from the successful candidate, Tory Julian Lewis. Infinitely better qualified for the crucial post, his crime was to receive support from Labour MPs.
Adding insult to injury, the impartial committee quickly vowed to publish a potentially awkward report into Russian interference in Uk elections, which the Prime Minister had sat on – fuelling conspiracy theories. Could Downing Street have scored a more spectacular own goal?
Again, Mr Johnson stands accused of control-freakery. Is he really so terrified of scrutiny he needed to manipulate the ISC?
With his Government widely considered to be botching the coronavirus response, it’s baffling he should become sidetracked by political chicanery. How incompetent that No 10’s favoured candidate couldn’t even win a vote they’d tried to rig.
And for a wannabe spy watchdog, it speaks volumes that Mr Grayling failed to spot manoeuvres under his very nose.
By punishing Mr Lewis, who is steeped in security, the PM risks appearing cavalier about vital safeguards against abuse of state power. The saving grace is that the bid to politicise the ISC crashed. Never should ideology trump national security.