May turns on Gove over choice of ad­viser ‘with no ex­per­tise’

The Guardian - - National - Ra­jeev Syal

Theresa May has launched a forth­right at­tack upon Boris John­son’s govern­ment for the ap­point­ment of the chief Brexit ne­go­tia­tor, David Frost, as the UK’s na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser.

The for­mer prime min­is­ter ac­cused Michael Gove, the Cabi­net Of­fice min­is­ter, of pro­mot­ing some­one “with no proven ex­per­tise” to a cru­cial role at the heart of the UK’s safety.

Her at­tack fol­lows an out­cry from se­cu­rity of­fi­cials and for­mer se­nior civil ser­vants at the de­ci­sion to hand the job to Frost, who is ex­pected to pri­ori­tise his role ne­go­ti­at­ing the UK’s deal with the Euro­pean Union while learn­ing his new job.

While he was for­merly a long-serv­ing diplo­mat, Frost, known as “Frosty” among John­son’s clos­est aides, has lit­tle di­rect ex­pe­ri­ence of se­cu­rity mat­ters. Un­like other na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vis­ers since the role was cre­ated in 2010, Frost is not a civil ser­vant but a po­lit­i­cal ap­pointee.

Frost will re­ceive a peer­age and will re­place Sir Mark Sed­will, who will also step down from his roles as cabi­net sec­re­tary and head of the civil ser­vice as part of a White­hall shake-up an­nounced on Sun­day.

May, who served on the na­tional se­cu­rity coun­cil for nine years as home sec­re­tary and then prime min­is­ter, made her com­ments in the House of Com­mons as Gove re­sponded to an ur­gent ques­tion about Frost’s role.

She paid trib­ute to Sed­will, say­ing she had lis­tened to expert in­de­pen­dent advice from na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vis­ers for nine years and noted that Gove had made a re­cent speech say­ing the govern­ment should be able to pro­mote ex­perts to key roles.

“Why then is the new na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser a po­lit­i­cal ap­pointee with no proven ex­per­tise in na­tional se­cu­rity?” she said.

Gove said: “We have had pre­vi­ous na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vis­ers, all of them ex­cel­lent, not all of them nec­es­sar­ily were peo­ple who were steeped in the se­cu­rity world. Some of them were dis­tin­guished diplo­mats in their own right. David Frost is a dis­tin­guished diplo­mat in his own right.”

As he spoke, May gri­maced and shook her head.

Later, the for­mer Labour min­is­ter An­gela Ea­gle asked Gove to re­turn to May’s ques­tion, say­ing he had failed to an­swer it. “What are his spe­cific qual­i­fi­ca­tions and ex­per­tise and why on earth was he con­sid­ered for a sec­ond for this role?” she said.

Gove replied: “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.”

It is the first time that May has openly crit­i­cised John­son’s ad­min­is­tra­tion since she was forced from of­fice last sum­mer. She ap­pointed Sed­will na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser in 2017.

Frost, 55, will be the sec­re­tary of the 30-strong na­tional se­cu­rity coun­cil, which dis­cusses strat­egy. Its meet­ings, chaired by the prime min­is­ter, in­clude the heads of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ and the UK’s most se­nior mil­i­tary of­fi­cers.

Joanna Cherry, the SNP’s home af­fairs spokes­woman, said Sed­will has been forced out be­cause he said last year that Brexit could be a dis­as­ter. “So this is all about the re­venge of the Vote Leave cam­paign whose so-called mas­ter­mind [Do­minic Cum­mings] is now pulling the strings of this govern­ment,” she said.

Al­though Frost will oc­cupy what was once a neu­tral role, a Tory min­is­ter, Lord True, told the House of Lords: “It is my un­der­stand­ing that he may be in­tro­duced as a Con­ser­va­tive peer but I can’t con­firm that.”

Sed­will, the UK’s most se­nior civil ser­vant, will step down in Septem­ber. John­son has dis­cussed the pos­si­bil­ity he could be of­fi­cially nom­i­nated to be­come Nato’s next sec­re­tary gen­eral.

▲ David Frost, left, with Tim Bar­row, Bri­tain’s am­bas­sador to the EU

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