Giving Chris Grayling this security role insults our intelligence: Tom Richmond

THE coronavirus crisis – and threat to public health – in no way lessens the importance of national security, and scrutiny of those tasked with protecting this country.

Chris Grayling is not remembered fondly for his three years as Transport Secretary.

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Quite the opposite. It demands the highest level of competence to ensure that Britain’s democracy is not compromised by malign influences, both domestic and international.

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And that is why it is so perturbing that Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee – responsible for this critical role – has not met since the day Boris Johnson called last December’s election nearly six months ago.

Boris Johnson wants to impose Chris Grayling as chair of Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee.

It means a long-awaited report on Russian meddling in UK politics, notably the 2017 election, is still to be published, presumably to the relief of the Kremlin and Mr Johnson who appears to have classified the matter as ‘too hot to 
handle’.

Inquiries into right-wing terrorism; the current threat from Northern Ireland and a critique of GCHQ’s procurement policies – all pressing issues put on hold by the December 2019 election and then Covid-19 – are still outstanding.

So, too, its investigation into national security issues relating to China – even more pertinent given how the source of the Covid-19 pandemic has been traced back to the Chinese city of Wuhan.

MPs, particularly those with military experience, are understood to be greatly exercised by this impasse in view of the urgency of the workload.

Chris Grayling presided over record levels of poor performance on the North's railways.

The reason? The Government’s continuing and misguided desire to impose Chris Grayling – the former Transport Secretary – as chair of a critical committee that oversees bodies such as M15 and M16.

Much of the committee’s work is so sensitive that it has to take place ‘in camera’ so not to compromise ongoing operations – or intelligence assets.

And the political push to appoint Mr Grayling – left in limbo while the PM convalesces and rest of the Government tries to respond to Covid-19 – makes no sense to anyone.

A Minister allowed to mismanage the railways after compromising the justice system, such an appointment would be a ‘reward for failure’ for a supposed elder statesman – Mr Grayling might be a political elder but he’s no statesman – as well as undermining confidence in the committee’s duties. Never mind the spooks, he couldn’t run the trains, as people here remember all too well.

Past chairs have all been MPs of stature with experience in defence policy, foreign affairs and practising law – Tom King, Ann Taylor, Paul Murphy, Margaret Beckett, Kim Howells, Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Dominic Grieve. Irrespective of his faults and flaws, Mr Grayling has little or no relevant experience.

New committee members are usually appointed by the Prime Minister (in consultation with the Opposition leader) and confirmed by Parliament to ensure politicians of the utmost integrity are selected.

Since 2015, the Chair has then been chosen by designated members. Yet Boris Johnson risks making a mockery of this process if he tries to force through Mr Grayling’s ‘nomination’ on the back of the Government’s 80-seat majority.

He is honour-bound to select the best person for the role. Both David Davis, the-ex Brexit Secretary, and Dr Liam Fox, a former Defence Secretary, spring to mind. So, too, Geoffrey Cox, the ex-Attorney General, and Iain Duncan Smith, an ex-soldier and former party leader.

There wil be others too, but what matters is that the Government puts forward – without delay – an alternative candidate so to avoid the calamitous Chris Grayling having oversight of intelligence policy and national security. Now that would be a danger.

THE Government is under pressure to open up Cobra emergency meetings to political leaders from outside London.

As mayor for the capital, Sadiq Khan is involved along with the respective leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The challenge is involving the English regions without turning Cobra into a talking shop involving 40 people. That would be be counter-productive.

I agree – and wouldn’t it be good if Dan Jarvis, the current Sheffield City Region mayor, was on the list of attendees and able to speak for the whole county?

A prominent advocate of One Yorkshire devolution, I believe he would have the confidence and trust of the whole county.

And he would – almost certainly – demonstrate that a single mayor for Yorkshire still has great merit.

IT’S significant that new Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer did not use his debut at PMQs to exploit the controversy over the Government’s failure to initially join a EU procurement scheme to source PPE protective equipment for NHS staff.

Emails going awry were blamed. Then the Foreign Office’s senior civil servant appeared to say it was a political decision – and then retratced this. I’m guessing this was the first move by Sir Keir to distance himself from his pro-EU and anti-Brexit recent past. Watch this space.

TALK about surreal. I was out for my daily walk when the phone went – and the one and only Baroness Betty Boothroyd OM was on the line to discuss her views on NHS fundraiser, and her fellow Yorkshireman, Captain Tom Moore.

On speakerphone – no pun intended – as I sat on a bench and scribbled notes, three or four passers-by stopped. More than two metres away, they were in awe of our Betty, voice unmistakable, in full flow.

And do you know? They said it had made their day and they were so pleased to hear – for themselves – that this great Parliamentarian, one they so respect, is still in fine order (pun intended). “She’d sort Boris (Johnson) out,” said one. And they wouldn’t be wrong...

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