The Liberal Democrats have today written to the Prime Minister and demanded he confirm if the Conservative Government has sanctioned any intelligence gathering or surveillance on MPs and, if so, on what legal basis.
The calls follow briefings from a Downing Street source that the government was working on "extensive investigations into Dominic Grieve, Oliver Letwin and Hilary Benn and their involvement with foreign powers and the funding of their activities".
Liberal Democrat Shadow Foreign Secretary Chuka Umunna warned Downing St’s behaviour was designed to "suppress dissent" and has written to Boris Johnson seeking clarity.
Liberal Democrat Shadow Foreign Secretary Chuka Umunna said:
“In order to ensure Parliament can scrutinise HM Government’s foreign policy and hold Ministers to account for their actions, it is vital for MPs from opposition parties to have dialogue with other governments. It informs our work for the British public, free from interference by HM Government.
“If Boris Johnson’s Government has sanctioned an intelligence probe into these links, it would represent an attack on our constitution and our democracy. Not only is the legality questionable but the mere threat of this action amounts to the harassment and intimidation of MPs which one associates with authoritarian regimes, not mature democracies.”
Please see the full text of Liberal Democrat Shadow Foreign Secretary Chuka Umunna’s letter to the Prime Minister.
Harassment and intimidation of MPs by HM Government
In your first speech as Prime Minister outside No 10 on 24 July you talked about the UK being the “home of democracy” and you said that our national flag – the Union Jack – stands “for freedom and free speech and habeas corpus and the rule of law and above all it stands for democracy.” I agree.
In this home of democracy, under our constitution, the government derives its mandate and legitimacy to govern by being able to command a majority in the House of Commons. Together with the House of Lords, the Commons makes the laws and holds HM Government to account for its actions and scrutinises its work. The judiciary interprets and upholds the laws passed by parliament and the rule of law. This is how the separation of powers operates in the UK, with the legislature and our judges acting as a check and balance on the abuse of executive power.
In order to ensure parliament can scrutinise HM Government’s foreign policy and hold Ministers to account for their actions, it is vital for backbenchers and spokespeople from opposition parties to enter into contact and have dialogue with other governments around the globe to inform our work, free from interference by HM Government. One would expect such contact with our allies and friends, not least with the governments of European Union member states and with the sister parties of UK political parties in government abroad. That was the case when the Conservative Party was in opposition – when your spokespeople met with and had extensive contacts with other governments – and it continues to be the case now.
Yesterday it was reported that your officials have launched a probe into alleged links between Members of Parliament and the governments of other member states of the European Union, after the receipt of intelligence suggesting assistance in drafting amendments to motions in the House of Commons has been received by MPs from such governments. This is strongly denied by those named in the reports. In addition, a Bill is reportedly being prepared by Conservative MPs to restrict parliamentarians – save for members of HM Government – from having contact with other governments.
If this is correct, it would have the effect of preventing Parliament and opposition parties from carrying out our constitutional and democratic duties. It would represent an attack on our constitution and the proper functioning of our democracy. It is also questionable whether it would be lawful. At the very least, the threat of such action amounts to the harassment and intimidation of MPs which one associates with authoritarian regimes, not mature democracies. Accordingly, please confirm the following:
- Have you sanctioned intelligence gathering, surveillance and/or any investigation by any part of HM Government into the contacts between UK parliamentarians and foreign governments? If so, to what extent?
- Has any intelligence gathering, surveillance and/or any investigation been instigated by your Ministers, officials, or any government officials, into contacts between UK parliamentarians and foreign governments? If so, to what extent?
- What is the legal basis for any probe referred to in 1) and 2) above?
- Will you support a Bill which seeks to restrict parliamentarians from having contact with other governments and, if so, what is the justification for this?
I have also submitted parliamentary questions seeking the same information. In the absence of a reply, I shall submit a Freedom of Information request.
I look forward to hearing from you.