This morning, former Prime Minister Theresa May criticised Boris Johnson‘s decision to appoint the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator, David Frost, as the new national security adviser. Mrs May told MPs in the House Commons she had worked alongside Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill, the current postholder, for nine years both as Home Secretary and Prime Minister and that his work had been “extraordinary”. On the other hand, Mrs May claimed the Government had picked, in Mr Frost, a political appointee with “no proven expertise” as his new national security adviser.
Sir Mark announced over the weekend his plans to step down as Britain’s top civil servant and national security chief in September, amid reports of clashes with Mr Johnson’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings.
The move is widely seen as just the beginning of a wider upheaval, which has long been championed by Mr Cummings.
Minister for the Cabinet Office Michael Gove laid the intellectual groundwork for the shakeup during a lecture at the weekend, in which he set out what he regards as the main faults in the Whitehall machine.
Some of these – including that the civil service is too London-centric, and stuffed with generalists who move between jobs too quickly instead of acquiring expertise – are only some of the ideas previously set out by Mr Cummings in his blog.
It is not the first time Mrs May and the Brexit guru have found themselves in disagreement over political appointments – even if indirectly.
In 2017, Mr Cummings wrote on Twitter that former Civil Service chief Jeremy Heywood was in a “parallel universe” on Brexit and warned Whitehall had “mega failed to prepare'” for the negotiations on the withdrawal agreement.
Moreover, Mr Cummings hit out at former Brexit Secretary David Davis, saying: “DD [David Davis] is manufactured exactly to specification as the perfect stooge for Heywood: thick as mince, lazy as a toad, and vain as Narcissus.”
The Brexit guru strongly believed Mr Davis was not the right person to lead the negotiations with the EU – particularly due to his lack of experience.
Mr Davis entered Westminster after a career in business.
He served in the Whips’ office for three years in the early Nineties and was ex-Prime Minister John Major’s Minister for Europe from 1994-1997 before returning to the front bench as Brexit Secretary in 2016.
Given his experience as Minister for Europe under Sir John, Mr Davis was familiar with the EU but arguably never really gained the same level of savoir faire as Mr Frost, who spent most of his earlier professional career as a British diplomat.
Moreover, Mr Davis was often accused of laziness while trying to negotiate Britain’s departure.
He attracted criticism for being pictured sitting down for talks in Brussels without any notes.
His approach was in stark contrast to the European Commission negotiators, who sat with large piles of briefing papers in organised binders.
This meant eurocrats never really took him seriously.
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As the two sides were about to enter negotiations in 2017, former Chief of Staff to Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, Martin Selmayr, shared a cartoon mocking Mr Davis’ readiness for the talks.
He retweeted a drawing showing the ex-Brexit Secretary looking flustered and confused.
The Telegraph cartoon depicted a calm and collected Mr Barnier instead, sitting at one end of a long table with the caption: “Whenever you’re ready, Mr Davis.”
At the other end of the table, Mr Davis seemed lost surrounded by pieces of paper containing phrases hinting at major headaches for UK negotiators – such as soft Brexit, DUP deal and Queen’s Speech.