Boris Johnson ‘promised to back Sir Mark Sedwill for NATO chief’ before Cabinet Secretary agreed to stand down
- Boris Johnson apparently agreed to nominate Sir Mark Sedwill for NATO top job
- Support for bid said to be part of exit package agreed with Cabinet Secretary
- However, secretary general position may not be available until end of 2022
- Some in Whitehall fear Mr Johnson’s support could turn out to be ‘half-hearted’
Boris Johnson promised to nominate Sir Mark Sedwill to be the next chief of NATO as part of the Cabinet Secretary’s exit package, it was claimed today.
Sir Mark, who is stepping down as head of the Civil Service and as the Government’s National Security Adviser, was apparently told by the Prime Minister that Number 10 will put his name forward for the highly-coveted position.
However, the current secretary general of the international military alliance, Jens Stoltenberg, is not expected to retire from the role until the end of 2022.
As a result some Whitehall sources have questioned whether Mr Johnson will actually deliver on the promise, given that it is so far in the future.
Sir Mark was apparently told by the PM that securing the role will be important for his ‘Global Britain’ agenda but sources fear the support could prove to be ‘half-hearted’.
‘I think Mark is either brave or courageous to accept a promise that they’ll do that in 2022,’ a Whitehall source told The Times.
‘I really hope they keep their word but we’ve all seen this happen before.’
The source suggested Sir Mark’s hopes could be ‘sacrificed’ by Number 10 in the future for ‘something that they really want’.
Sir Mark Sedwill, pictured arriving in Downing Street yesterday, will step down as Cabinet Secretary and National Security Adviser in September
Boris Johnson, pictured during a visit to a school in west London yesterday, is said to have told Sir Mark he will nominate him to be the next secretary general of NATO
Sir Mark’s departure from the Government, announced on Sunday, sent shockwaves through Whitehall and came after repeated reports of clashes with Mr Johnson’s top aide Dominic Cummings.
The recruitment process for the role of Cabinet Secretary is just getting underway with Sir Mark due to formally step down in September.
But Mr Johnson has already appointed Sir Mark’s successor as National Security Adviser, with chief Brexit negotiator David Frost to be handed the role.
However, Downing Street has been forced to defend the move because unlike previous holders of the post, Mr Frost is a political adviser rather than a career civil servant and lacks security experience.
The former cabinet secretary Lord O’Donnell has warned political appointees were more likely to be ‘yes-men’ – telling ministers what they wanted to hear rather than ‘speaking truth to power’.
‘I’m worried about the appointment of David Frost as national security adviser because I’m not quite sure how putting a special adviser in that role works,’ he told the BBC.
Downing Street has insisted such appointments are not unusual in other countries and that Mr Frost – who has the status of an ambassador – had spent 25 years as a diplomat in the Foreign Office before leaving in 2013.
‘The appointment of the NSA is always a decision for the Prime Minister,’ the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman said.
‘It is not unusual in other countries for ambassadors to serve as national security advisers and ambassadors can be political appointees. David Frost has the status of an ambassador.
‘The First Civil Service Commissioner has agreed the appointment. That is consistent with the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act.’
Mr Johnson has sought to play down claims that Sir Mark’s position had been undermined by a series of hostile press briefings.
Mr Cummings was reported to have been unimpressed by the response of the Cabinet Office to the coronavirus outbreak, telling aides a ‘hard rain is coming’ for the Civil Service.
Speaking during a visit to a school in west London yesterday, Mr Johnson insisted that Sir Mark – who will continue to be involved in the preparations for the UK taking on the presidency of the G7 next year – still had ‘a lot to offer’.
He dismissed claims that Sir Mark had been deliberately undermined through hostile press briefings, making his position untenable.
‘I try not to read too much of the negative briefing,’ Mr Johnson said.
‘There is an awful lot of stuff that comes out in the papers to which I wouldn’t automatically attach the utmost credence.’
However, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said that it was ‘obvious’ that the Prime Minister had been determined to get rid of Sir Mark.
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