Theresa May has launched a forthright attack upon Boris Johnson’s government over the appointment of the EU negotiator David Frost as the UK’s national security adviser.
The former prime minister accused the Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove of promoting someone “with no proven expertise” to a crucial role at the heart of the UK’s safety.
It 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 EU while learning his new job.
As a former 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 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 as Gove responded to an urgent question about Frost’s role in the House of Commons.
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.
“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?” she said.
Gove replied: “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 Gove 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 May has launched an attack upon Johnson’s administration since she was forced from office last summer. She appointed Sedwill to the role as national security adviser in 2017.
Frost, who will also receive a peerage, could be introduced to parliament as a Conservative, a Tory minister confirmed.
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.”
Johnson has discussed the possibility that Sedwill could be officially nominated to become Nato’s next secretary general. However, the post is not likely to become free until the end of 2022, when the incumbent, Jens Stoltenberg, is expected to retire after eight years in the role.