John­son under at­tack over choice of po­lit­i­cal ap­pointee for se­cu­rity role

The Guardian - - National Politics - Peter Walker Po­lit­i­cal cor­re­spon­dent

Labour has crit­i­cised what it called the gov­ern­ment’s “highly un­usual” de­ci­sion to re­place Sir Mark Sed­will as na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser with a po­lit­i­cal ap­pointee who has lit­tle di­rect ex­pe­ri­ence of the role, be­fore a par­lia­men­tary ques­tion on the is­sue.

Af­ter a se­ries of former top of­fi­cials con­demned Sed­will’s de­par­ture as a sign the gov­ern­ment was un­der­min­ing the im­par­tial­ity of the civil ser­vice, Labour se­cured an ur­gent ques­tion on the new na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser.

Sed­will holds that role, as well as be­ing cab­i­net sec­re­tary, the most se­nior post in the civil ser­vice, but will stand down from both jobs dur­ing the sum­mer fol­low­ing weeks of brief­ings tar­get­ing him.

The search for a new cab­i­net sec­re­tary will be­gin next month. But Boris John­son has al­ready said the new na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser will be David Frost, cur­rently the gov­ern­ment’s chief Brexit ne­go­tia­tor with the EU.

While he was for­merly a longserv­ing diplo­mat, Frost has lit­tle di­rect ex­pe­ri­ence of se­cu­rity mat­ters. Also, un­like Sed­will and all other na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vis­ers since the role was cre­ated in 2010, Frost is not a civil ser­vant but a po­lit­i­cal ap­pointee.

Gus O’Don­nell, former cab­i­net sec­re­tary, warned yes­ter­day that po­lit­i­cal ap­pointees were more likely to be “yes men”, telling the BBC: “I’m wor­ried about the ap­point­ment of David Frost as na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser as I’m not sure how putting a spe­cial ad­viser in that role works.”

Frost will be made a peer. Down­ing Street was unable to say yes­ter­day whether he would take the Con­ser­va­tive whip or speak in the Lords.

Nick Thomas-Sy­monds, the shadow home sec­re­tary, has se­cured an ur­gent ques­tion in the Com­mons to­day about Frost’s ap­point­ment.

He said: “We are in the midst of an un­prece­dented in­ter­na­tional crisis. It is highly un­usual for the gov­ern­ment to have pro­ceeded in this man­ner, seem­ing to rush through a po­lit­i­cal ap­point­ment to a crit­i­cally im­por­tant role that needs to pro­vide im­par­tial ex­pert ad­vice.

“There are a number of vi­tal ques­tions that must be answered, such as what cri­te­ria were used to select a can­di­date, and what process was fol­lowed.”

Down­ing Street re­jected the charge that Sed­will had been forced out af­ter two years in the twin jobs by John­son and his chief ad­viser, Do­minic Cum­mings. John­son’s spokesman de­nied Frost had been se­lected mainly be­cause he would be loyal to the PM. “No, ab­so­lutely not,” he said.

Asked about Frost’s po­lit­i­cal sta­tus, the spokesman likened the choice to those made in places such as the US: “It is not un­usual in other coun­tries: am­bas­sadors serve as na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vis­ers and am­bas­sadors can be po­lit­i­cal ap­pointees. David Frost has the sta­tus of an am­bas­sador.”

On the tim­ing of Sed­will’s de­par­ture, he said the re­sponse to coro­n­avirus was now reach­ing the phase of “do­mes­tic and global re­cov­ery and

‘It is highly un­usual for the gov­ern­ment to pro­ceed in this way’ Nick Thomas-Sy­monds Shadow home sec­re­tary

re­newal”, and that John­son needed a cab­i­net sec­re­tary and na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser “who can see him through the rest of this par­lia­ment”.

But writing in the Guardian, Bob Ker­slake, a former head of the civil ser­vice, said the prac­tice of gov­ern­ments brief­ing against of­fi­cials was “cow­ardly, un­fair and un­der­min­ing”.

“Ul­ti­mately ev­ery­one knows where such ma­li­cious brief­ings come from and it is within the prime min­is­ter’s pow­ers to stop them,” Ker­slake wrote.

Speak­ing dur­ing a visit to a school in Lon­don, John­son sought to dis­tance him­self from the brief­ing against Sed­will, say­ing: “There is an aw­ful lot of stuff that comes out in the pa­pers to which I wouldn’t au­to­mat­i­cally at­tach the ut­most cre­dence.”

The Labour leader, Keir Starmer, told Sky it was “ob­vi­ous” John­son wanted to oust Sed­will: “Why you do so in the mid­dle of a pan­demic and a crisis, in­stead of ac­tu­ally fo­cus­ing on the crisis, is a ques­tion the prime min­is­ter needs to an­swer.”

There was also some Con­ser­va­tive dis­quiet. The se­nior Tory back­bencher Ge­orge Free­man tweeted that it was “a huge loss to lose Mark Sed­will who is an out­stand­ing pub­lic ser­vant & such a highly ex­pe­ri­enced gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial in midst of this crisis”.

Frost will take up the new role in late Au­gust, mean­ing there is a new ef­fec­tive dead­line for Brexit talks with the EU, which he leads, to have con­cluded by then or soon af­ter­wards. John­son’s spokesman said the UK had al­ready been clear the talks “need to be con­cluded sooner rather than later”.

Re­cruit­ment for the new permanent sec­re­tary will start in early July, with ap­pli­ca­tions to be in­vited from ex­ist­ing and former permanent sec­re­taries.

Mark Sed­will in 2010. Keir Starmer said it was ‘ob­vi­ous’ he was forced out

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.