MoD perm sec Lovegrove to become national security adviser

PM ditches plans to hand David Frost the NSA role but appoints peer to lead new No.10 International Policy Unit
Sir Stephen Lovegrove, photographed by Louise Haywood-Schiefer for CSW

By Jim Dunton

29 Jan 2021

Boris Johnson has named Ministry of Defence permanent secretary Sir Stephen Lovegrove as the UK’s next national security adviser in a dramatic change of tack just seven months after chief Brexit negotiator David Frost was appointed to the role.

Lovegrove, who has been the top civil servant at the MoD since April 2016, will take up the NSA post at the end of March. Lord Frost will start a new role as the prime minister’s representative on Brexit and international policy from Monday.

Frost was named as Sir Mark Sedwill's successor as NSA at the end of June, but his ongoing work on Brexit meant one of the three deputy national security advisers – David Quarrey – was acting NSA. Sedwill, now Lord Sedwill, served as both cabinet secretary and NSA until he stepped down from both roles in September.

Downing Street acknowledged today that Lovegrove and Frost’s appointments represented a “change to those provisionally announced” in the summer. 

Frost’s selection as the next NSA came as a surprise to many when it was revealed at the end of June last year, not least Peter Ricketts, who was national security adviser from 2010-2012 and the first holder of the post.

Lord Ricketts questioned Frost’s lack of a background in defence, intelligence or internal security work, among other concerns – including the suitability of a member of the House of Lords holding the role. Former cab sec Lord Gus O'Donnell and ex-prime minister Theresa May also criticised the move as a politicisation of the post.

Today Johnson said Frost would instead lead on the UK’s institutional and strategic relationship with the European Union, and help drive through changes to maximise the opportunities of Brexit, including on international trade and economic issues. 

He added that Frost would work with Lovegrove to finalise the integrated review of security, defence, development and foreign policy and would continue to advise on foreign policy issues where necessary.

“I am hugely grateful to Lord Frost for his herculean efforts in securing a deal with the EU, and I am thrilled that he has agreed to be my representative for Brexit and international policy as we seize the opportunities from our departure from the EU,” the prime minister said.

“I am also delighted to appoint Sir Stephen Lovegrove as my national security adviser. Stephen brings with him a wealth of experience from across Whitehall and in national security and I look forward to working closely together to deliver this government’s vision for the UK in the world.”

Conservative peer Frost is a special adviser rather than a civil servant, and is currently on a leave of absence from the House of Lords. He said he was “delighted” to take up his new role.

“With a new agreement with the EU in place, we have huge opportunities to boost our wealth and define what we stand for as a country internationally, and I very much look forward to supporting the prime minister on this,” he said.

Lovegrove said it had been “an immense privilege” to serve as MoD perm sec for the past five years.

“Working with the whole force – our armed forces, both regular and reserve, civil servants, our suppliers and everyone that makes up the defence community – has been an honour,” he said.

“I am delighted now to be taking up the role of the national security adviser. On this broader canvas I aim to deliver the prime minister’s vision for an enhanced and more engaged role for the UK in the world, leading the national security community to embrace the opportunities now available to us, while ensuring we are well prepared to deal with the challenges we face.”

Before taking the helm at the MoD,  Lovegrove was perm sec at the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

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