Prominent MPs on the committee investigating fake news and disinformation want Boris Johnson’s aide Dominic Cummings, who has been found in contempt of parliament, to face sanctions in his new role at the heart of government. These could include docking his salary, denying him a security pass and putting pressure on the prime minister to force him to give evidence to parliament.
Johnson’s decision to appoint Cummings as a key adviser outraged many MPs because it came less than four months after parliament unanimously passed a motion, tabled by the government, to censure him for failing to testify at the fake news inquiry.
“This is someone who campaigned to take back control for parliament, and yet has decided the only person who shouldn’t be accountable to parliament is him,” said MP Sarah Wollaston, who has left the Tory party and sits as an independent.
“What does that say about the prime minister’s attitude to parliament? It’s a terrible error of judgment.”
Wollaston admitted there was no mechanism to enforce motions holding individuals in contempt of parliament. But members of the committee that originally summoned Cummings to give evidence say they want to recall him again, and have suggested a range of sanctions.
“We need to demand that he attends to give evidence and call on Boris Johnson [to ensure] that he does attend. We would expect the prime minister to fully support our call for evidence,” said Jo Stevens, one of the MPs on the committee.
She also suggested any decision to give him a security pass should be closely scrutinised.
“Everyone who works in parliament has to go through a very stringent security procedure. How can someone who oversaw a campaign that is the subject of a serious criminal investigation pass that test? He will have access not just to parliament but to the inner sanctum of No 10. There are obvious and serious security implications to that.”
Ian Lucas, the MP for Wrexham, said the committee would look at recalling Cummings, but also said he hoped that parliament would consider cutting his salary. “Cummings is in contempt of parliament and parliament needs to express its dissatisfaction,” said Lucas.
“That should include the possibility of docking his salary. I’d like that to be an opposition day debate. He is a special adviser and will be being paid out of taxpayers’ money. I personally don’t think that should happen when he’s done everything he can to obstruct this very important parliamentary inquiry.”
The high-profile chair of the committee, Damian Collins, had been a vocal supporter of Boris Johnson in his leadership bid, and Westminster insiders had expected to see him offered a cabinet position; but none was forthcoming, leading to speculation that Cummings may have blocked the move.
Cummings has referred to the committee in his blog as “grandstanding” and accused it of spreading fake news.
Kate Green, chair of the privileges committee, which regulates MPs, said the Cummings appointment had thrown wider concerns about limits on parliament’s power into relief, and given added urgency to efforts to boost its authority.
“We are actually conducting a formal inquiry into the powers of parliament,” she said. “My personal view is that doing nothing is no longer an option. We have had several of these cases in the last few years, but we are in the process of taking evidence on what our options might be.”
Cummings, a former special adviser to Michael Gove, was once described as a “career psychopath” by the prime minister at the time, David Cameron. Adept at use of social media in campaigning, he helped push large portions of Vote Leave funds into online advertising. The committee that had summoned him to give evidence as part of a fake news enquiry was looking into the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and other witnesses included the company’s former CEO Alexander Nix
In his new role at Downing Street Cummings appears to be getting Johnson on an election footing; the Conservative party Facebook page has fielded hundreds of ads since his appointment. Although they are spending relatively small amounts, the range of ads allow them to test voters’ responses and gather data on those who do interact with the advertisements.
As well as appointing Cummings as his chief adviser, Johnson appointed multiple senior members of Vote Leave to cabinet and adviser positions, including Priti Patel as home secretary and Dominic Raab as foreign secretary.
Lucas said: “Johnson appears to be going for broke in a very dangerous way. The appointment of key members of the Vote Leave campaign to the cabinet and, especially, the appointment of Cummings shows complete contempt for the important and substantive work parliament has done to address these issues around technology and disinformation and the urgent need for electoral reform. This report has been acknowledged as important work everywhere but in Boris Johnson’s drawing room.”
Source link Google News