Former Commons Speaker John Bercow has accused the Government of “juvenile bed wetting” after a Tory MP had his whip removed for defying Boris Johnson and running against Number 10’s nominee for a key role.
The Prime Minister was widely believed to want the former transport secretary to take over the top job at the watchdog which oversees the work of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ.
Mr Bercow not only slammed the Government for attempting to gain revenge with “juvenile bed-wetting”, but he also tore into Mr Grayling as he said anything the former Transport Secretary touches “turns to disaster”.
In an interview with Sky News on Friday, Mr Bercow said the Government was guilty of “throwing their toys out of the pram”.
He said: “They’ve picked on the wrong man here – they’re not going to outdo him.
“He’s quicker, he’s sharper, he’s brighter and he’s a person of unimpeachable integrity who will serve the committee and the House of Commons with distinction.”
Mr Bercow said it was “disturbing” if the Prime Minister wasn’t aware of the provisions of the 2013 Justice and Security Act.
He said the law forbids outside interference and that it is solely the responsibility of the nine ISC committee members to elect the chair.
Dr Lewis also made this point when responding to the Government’s decision to remove his whip.
He also said that it was “improper” to ask committee members to vote for the PM’s favourite candidate.
Mr Bercow told Sky News: “If he did… but chose nevertheless to interfere in this albeit clumsy and ham-fisted but rather Etonian fashion, that is truly disgraceful.
“The Government has made a complete exhibition of itself.”
A senior Government source said the action had been taken against Dr Lewis “for working with Labour and other opposition MPs for his own advantage”.
But Mr Bercow rejected the notion that Mr Grayling was a better fit for the role.
“Chris Grayling manifestly was not qualified to discharge the responsibilities – he knows nothing particularly about intelligence and security,” said the former Commons Speaker.
“And nice chap though he is, his whole track record shows anything he touches turns to disaster.
“He is congenitally incapable of seeing a problem without making it very considerably worse.
“Frankly the government and the prime minister ought to know when they are beaten and back off.”
It comes after former Tory Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind said the idea that what Boris Johnson had handled the situation in an “extremely incompetent way”.
Sir Malcom told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The Prime Minister is the author of his own misfortune.
“The idea of using the Whips to try and force Conservative members to vote for a particular candidate goes totally against the way the committee under statue has operated since it began.
“It’s never been a partisan committee, I think the Prime Minister has handled this – or his advisers whoever is dealing with it – in an extremely incompetent way.”
Dr Lewis, the MP for New Forest East since 1997, has twice chaired the House of Commons Defence Select Committee.
He was described by former national security adviser Lord Ricketts as someone “with much wider experience of defence and security”.
In a statement to the PA news agency on Thursday, Mr Lewis, who was previously a member of the ISC between 2010 and 2015, said: “There is no other Conservative MP in the House of Commons with any past experience of working on the ISC.”