Dominic Cummings must be subjected to questioning by parliament if he is to play a formal role in UK defence policy, a senior MP has said.
The Conservative chair of the House of Commons Defence Committee, Tobias Ellwood, said that MPs must be granted the same powers to grill Boris Johnson’s chief aide as they do ministers and civil servants.
The prime minister is coming under pressure to explain Mr Cummings’ role in a review of the UK’s future defence and security needs, after it emerged he is planning a tour of the armed forces’ most classified bases.
Downing Street on Wednesday defended the plan, saying that senior advisers “regularly” visit government sites.
But Mr Ellwood, who served as a defence minister under Theresa May from 2017-19, said that he should appear in front of committees like the one he chairs in order to explain his involvement to MPs.
“If … Dominic Cummings is formally involved in reviewing the UK’s defence and security architecture then he should be subject to the same parliamentary scrutiny as ministers, military personnel and the civil service,” said the defence committee chair.
Mr Cummings was found in contempt of parliament in 2019 after refusing to appear before the Commons Culture Committee to answer questions about the alleged use of ‘fake news’ by the Vote Leave campaign which he led during the EU referendum. He had previously given evidence to the Treasury Committee during the 2016 campaign.
Parliament’s select committees routinely call ministers and senior civil servants to give evidence in televised sessions which can last two hours or more, though they have no powers to compel attendance. However, they are not normally given access to politically-appointed special advisers for questioning.
Documents seen by an Australian newspaper showed that Mr Cummings is planning to visit sites including the Special Boat Service in Dorset, the SAS headquarters in Hereford and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down which researches chemical weapons and pathogens.
Mr Cummings also wants to visit the Rapid Capabilities Office at Farnborough and the defence intelligence unit at Wyton – having already toured MI5 and MI6 twice, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.
If correct and DOMINIC CUMMINGS is formally involved in reviewing the UK’s defence and security architecture then he should be subject to the same parliamentary scrutiny as ministers, military personnel and the civil service. pic.twitter.com/Nb8iakK1KB— Tobias Ellwood MP (@Tobias_Ellwood)July 8, 2020
Shadow defence secretary John Healey has said he fears the Ministry of Defence (MoD) would be “a bystander” in what was meant to be “the biggest defence review since the Cold War”.
“Plans for Britain’s future defence and security should not be in the hands of a political adviser,” he warned.
According to the documents, defence secretary Ben Wallace has forbidden officials from talking to Downing Street or Mr Cummings about the itinerary for his planned trip.
But Mr Johnson’s political spokesperson defended Mr Cummings’ tour, saying: “He is the prime minister’s senior adviser and so, as you would expect, he regularly visits government sites.
“Similar visits have taken place involving senior advisers under previous governments.”