Shropshire Star

Sunak rebuked as PMs ‘dodged Intelligence and Security Committee since 2014’

Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee said effective scrutiny of national security issues is being prevented.

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Rishi Sunak

Rishi Sunak has been rebuked for hiding security matters from proper oversight by the parliamentary watchdog scrutinising UK intelligence activities.

The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) – made up of senior MPs and peers – complained that they have not met a prime minister since 2014.

In its annual report, the panel expressed concern that it had not been given oversight of parts of policy departments to which security responsibilities have been devolved, despite past assurances by ministers that its remit would be extended to cover any new bodies.

It said the Government has opposed bids to add the departments to the committee’s remit by updating the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the ISC and the Prime Minister, therefore effectively blocking “all attempts to ensure effective scrutiny by Parliament”.

They include the investment security unit in the Cabinet Office; the telecoms security and resilience team and the counter disinformation unit in the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology; the transport security, resilience and response group in the Department for Transport; the office of communications in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport; and the intelligence policy department in the Foreign Office.

“The ISC is the only body that has regular access to protectively marked information that is sensitive for national security reasons, such that it is in a position to scrutinise effectively the work of the security and intelligence Agencies and of those parts of departments whose work is directly concerned with intelligence and security matters,” the committee said in a press release to accompany the report.

“We again, therefore, urge the Prime Minister to meet the commitments made to Parliament and to the public, and not to hide security matters from proper oversight.”

The committee chairman, Sir Julian Lewis, said the ISC’s current lack of oversight of those bodies is a “matter of serious concern”.

“It is deeply disappointing that effective scrutiny of national security issues is being prevented, in direct contravention of commitments given to Parliament. We question whether the Government has really thought through the consequences of its current position.”

The MPs and peers also lamented the lack of a meeting with the prime minister for nine years.

Such a meeting took place annually for 20 years following the panel’s establishment in 1994.

The absence of a meeting since 2014 is “unacceptable and reflects the disengagement from the ISC of successive prime ministers,” the committee said.

“The committee urges the Prime Minister to meet with it as a matter of priority: there are matters of significant constitutional importance at stake.”

Labour’s shadow security minister Dan Jarvis said: “National security is the first duty of any government. However, this report exposes serious gaps in the Government’s response.

“There has been no meeting with a prime minister since 2014. In the meantime, the committee has issued serious warnings over oversight on sensitive transactions, and over the Government’s decision to reject Labour’s amendment to the National Security Act that would have strengthened the ISC’s oversight of agency work.

“We need renewed leadership to keep our country, people, and institutions safe. Labour would put national security at the heart of our programme for government, including leading cross-government action to tackle state threats.”

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