Commons committee asked to examine Boris Johnson's £350m claim

Lord Coe and Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson’s row with the statistics watchdog over his repeated claim that up to £350m a week extra might be made available after Brexit could be examined by a parliamentary committee.

The public administration and constitutional affairs committee (Pacac) has received a request from a Labour member to summon the foreign secretary and David Norgrove, the head of the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA), to give evidence over their dispute.

Johnson was rebuked by Norgrove after repeating the £350m figure, which was emblazoned on the side of Vote Leave’s battlebus during the EU referendum campaign.

Pacac is the committee in charge of examining the role of the UKSA and the Office for National Statistics.

The Labour MP Paul Flynn, an experienced member of the committee, has asked that the chair, Bernard Jenkin, launch an inquiry into the row as a matter of urgency.

“I have asked that Pacac should examine Sir David’s role in the current row, as well as invite the foreign secretary to give evidence, so we can ensure that UKSA remains independent and accurate,” he said.

Norgrove, 69, is a former private secretary to Margaret Thatcher. He began his career as a Treasury economist in 1972 having grown up in Peckham, south London, and read history at Oxford.

Joining Thatcher in 1985, he was given access to the formulation of some of her most controversial policies as prime minister, including the privatisation of utilities and discussions over the poll tax.

Norgrove has recently called for statisticians to stop others from cherry-picking data to suit their arguments. In an interview in June, he said: “There’s always been a tendency to look for the evidence that supports the policy rather than the other way round.

“That’s not going to end any time soon, but statisticians have an important role in trying to head that off.”

Whitehall insiders said Norgrove was very popular at UKSA and the Office for National Statistics and was unlikely to face any internal pressure to back down in the dispute.

Norgrove left No 10 in 1988 to join Marks & Spencer. In January 2004 he stepped down from his role as director of clothing after poor Christmas sales. He was lured back to Whitehall in 2005 as the first chair of the pensions regulator and took a tough stance against some companies.

Norgrove was appointed as the chair of the UKSA in April after the tenure of Sir Andrew Dilnot. He was the preferred candidate identified by the then cabinet minister Ben Gummer and received cross-party support before taking up the role.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Rajeev Syal, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 19th September 2017 06.30 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010