Michael Gove faced fierce opposition from Theresa May in the Commons today as the former PM claimed he had picked a political appointee with “no proven expertise” as his new National Security Adviser.
The Government recently announced that Sir Mark Sedwill will be replaced with David Frost, who is currently Mr Johnson’s chief EU negotiator.
The move has raised eyebrows due to concerns over Mr Frost’s lack of experience in the field and the fact he will continue to lead the UK’s trade negotiations with the European Union.
Previous holders of the post have often been career civil servants rather than political advisers.
Speaking during an urgent question in the Commons, Tory MP Mrs May said: “I served on the National Security Council for nine years – six years as home secretary and three as prime minister.
“During that time, I listened to the expert independent advice from national security advisers. On Saturday (Mr Gove) 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 responded by insisting that David Frost “is an expert” given his experience in diplomatic service.
“We have had previous national security advisers, all of them excellent, not all of them necessarily people who were steeped in the security world, some of whom were distinguished diplomats in their own right,” said the Cabinet Office minister.
“David Frost is a distinguished diplomat in his own right, and it is entirely appropriate that the prime minister of the day should choose an adviser appropriate to the needs of the hour.”
Labour former minister Steve McCabe asked if Mr Frost will have finished with his duties as EU negotiator by the time he takes the security job, adding: “Or is it still this Government’s view that the national security adviser will be a part-time role?”
Mr Gove replied: “We’re confident that we’ll be making progress over the next few weeks in EU negotiations.
“They’re being conducted intensively, specifically at the request of the Prime Minister and the President of the European Commission.”
Conservative former cabinet ministers Andrew Mitchell and Sir John Redwood backed the changes made by the Government, with Mr Mitchell telling the Commons: “It does seem to me it’s clearly sensible to have the national security adviser separate from the head of the civil service.”
Labour MP Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) said it was “a move for chumocracy”.
He added: “Someone in Johnson’s inner circle is being moved higher up the inner circles and when it comes to matters of security his knowledge is zero.
“One of the key lessons from the Chilcot inquiry was the importance of speaking truth to power. How can a political appointee of this nature, part of the chumocracy, speak truth to power?”
Michael Gove replied: “Anyone who has seen how those in the national security secretariat discharge their responsibility under this administration will know they consistently speak truth to power.”
Sir Mark is also stepping down as Cabinet Secretary and head of the Civil Service, amid reports of clashes with Mr Johnson’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings.
His exit follows on from a number of changes at the top of the Civil Service in recent months.
The Foreign Office’s most senior civil servant Sir Simon McDonald – seen as a Brexit critic – was told this month he had to step down before it was merged with the Department for International Development (DfID).
Sir Philip Rutnam, who was the Home Office’s permanent secretary, quit earlier this year after accusing Home Secretary Priti Patel of a “vicious and orchestrated briefing campaign” against him.