Chris Grayling, the former cabinet minister, has unexpectedly failed in his attempt to become chair of parliament’s powerful intelligence and security committee after being ambushed by MPs.

Opposition members voted instead for another Conservative Julian Lewis and agreed to meet again before recess where they are expected to discuss releasing the long delayed report into Russian interference in British politics.

Lewis secured the votes of the four opposition members, three MPs and one peer, on the committee in what amounts to a humiliating defeat for a figure who was personally backed by the prime minister for the role.

One source said Grayling “didn’t see it coming”. The nine members of the MPs’ committee voted five to four in favour of Lewis.

The former transport and justice secretary had been Boris Johnson’s choice for months, but his appointment was controversial even amongst Conservatives because of his error-prone record as a cabinet minister.

Downing Street thought that it had dealt with the threat when it nominated five loyal Conservative MPs who had been expected to vote Grayling through when the body met this week.

But No 10 had not banked on Lewis, a former defence committee chair, putting himself forward – confident that the three Labour and one SNP members of the committee would support him instead.

The intelligence and security committee meets in secret and is responsible for oversight of Britain’s spy agencies. Its members decide who is to become chair when it is reconstituted after a general election – a process that was delayed for months.

Grayling is best known as the minister who presided over the collapse of Northern and Thameslink rail services and the granting of a no-deal Brexit ferry contract to a company with no ships.

As justice secretary, he part-privatised the probation service and banned prisoners from receiving books from relatives, a measure that was overturned in the courts. He was also a prominent supporter of leave in the 2016 referendum campaign.

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