Theresa May has blasted Boris Johnson’s choice of new national security adviser as a ‘political appointee’ with ‘no proven expertise’.
Speaking in the Commons, she paid tribute to the departing NSA and chief civil servant Sir Mark Sedwill – but fumed over the decision to replace him with David Frost, who is the chief EU trade negotiator and Europe Adviser to Mr Johnson.
The appointment has also been criticised by a former chief civil servant, Gus O’Donnell, and a former NSA, Peter Ricketts, who feared it could undermine the impartiality of the security advice the PM receives.
It is the first time Ms May has openly attacked Mr Johnson’s government since she stepped down last summer.
Singling out Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, Ms May said: ‘On Saturday, my right honourable friend said we must be able to promote those with proven expertise. Why then is the new national security adviser a political appointee with no proven expertise in national security?’
Mr Gove had attacked the ‘whirligig of Civil Service transfers and promotions’ in a speech to the Ditchley Foundation on the same day Mr Sedwill’s resignation was announced.
He said: ‘We must be able to promote those with proven expertise in their current role to perform the same, or similar, functions with greater status and higher rewards without them thinking they have to move away from the areas they know and love to rise in their profession.
‘We would not ask an Orthopaedics Registrar to become a psychiatrist in order to make consultant. So why should we require an expert in agriculture negotiations with the EU to supervise the Universal Credit IT system to see their career progress?’
Mr Sedwill held both the position of national security adviser and Cabinet Secretary, the most powerful civil service role, whereas the two roles will now be held by different people.
Mr Gove said previous NSAs were not all ‘steeped in the security world’ and said some were ‘distinguished diplomats’ like Mr Frost.
Ms May glared and shook her head as he gave his response.
In response to further questions by a Labour MP, he said: ‘The broader point is that David Frost is involved in one of the most complex diplomatic negotiations ever conducted and a diplomatic negotiation that relates specifically to defence and security cooperation as well as tariffs and trade.
‘He has been a civil servant for decades and it is the case that Mark Lyall Grant and Kim Darroch, who were national security advisers, were not people who were steeped in the world of intelligence and security.
‘They were gifted diplomats and gifted civil servants and they were, as David will be, supported by a superb team in the national security secretariat.’
Like Mr Frost, Mr Darroch held a number of diplomatic roles with the Foreign Office and was the PM’s Europe adviser for several years.
However his responsibilities included briefs on the Soviet Union and satellites towards the end of the Cold War, according to the New Statesman.
His successor, Mr Lyall Grant, had served mainly in ambassadorial roles and senior Foreign Office postings.
Neither men had the extensive security background of Mr Sedwill, who had held military-facing and counterterrorism roles in the Foreign Office and the United Nations respectively.
Before Ms May’s comments, Mr Gove claimed the civil service commissioner has agreed the job of national security adviser ‘can be regarded as a political rather than necessarily civil service appointment.’
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