Michael Gove heckled by MPs after suggesting PM has backing of civil service over David Frost appointment
PUBLISHED: 14:19 30 June 2020 | UPDATED: 14:24 30 June 2020
Cabinet minister Michael Gove was heckled in the Commons when he suggested that civil servants supported the appointment of David Frost as National Security Advisor (NSA), despite the Brexit negotiator having no security experience.
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Gove was taking an urgent question from the opposition over the recent appointment when one MP erupted in laughter at the minister’s comments.
Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds questioned why the government had made it a political appointment.
He said: “The first duty of any government is to keep people safe and, in carrying out that duty, any government should have objective and at times challenging advice from its national security adviser.
“And it’s why making a political appointment takes this government into such dangerous territory.”
But Gove insisted the appointment had the blessing of a civil service commissioner, who supposedly agreed that the top security post could be filled by a political appointee.
He said: “The NSA is a relatively new position but it is always an appointment for the prime minister of the day. The first civil service commissioner has agreed the position be regarded as a political, rather than necessarily a civil service appointment.”
“David Frost’s status will be akin to that of a special envoy, representing the UK abroad, speaking publicly, and setting the agenda for policy making.”
The minister’s response drew shock from an MP, who shouted out, “What?”
The UK’s Brexit negotiator, David Frost, was recently promoted to the role by the prime minister after the current holder, Mark Sedwill resigned. He was believed to have been one of the few voices left in a senior position not fully signed up to the Brexit agenda.
The move marks a significant shift away from protocol that a successor is chosen jointly by the civil service and the prime minister, and it has raised eyebrows among MPs who fear Frost may not “speak the truth” to ministers. They say he also lacks the relevant experience.
Gove heaped praise on Sedwill, who has worked on the UK’s response in Afghanistan, modernising the civil service, Brexit preparations, and the handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
“Sir Mark is a supremely dedicated, highly professional, and hugely accomplished public servant,” he said.
“Working alongside him has been both a pleasure and a privilege and I know he will continue to contribute to the service of this country.”
Gove said Frost would not become a permanent secretary or a special advisor.
Sedwill’s departure in September will trigger a search for the next cabinet secretary and head of the civil service.
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