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James Brokenshire appointed Security Minister

by Paul Goodman

NEVILLE JONES10.15am UPDATE, Thursday May 12: After a three-day hiatus, there's an announcement - and a Minister's to cover security, after all.  James Brokenshire, the Under-Secretary at the Department, has been appointed; Angela Browning (see below) will cover anti-social behaviour and crime prevention, which he'd previously specialised in.  Nick Herbert or Damian Green, two senior Ministers of Cabinet-level ability, were presumably unavailable due to their commitments elsewhere.  Congratulations to Brokenshire, who isn't so senior but is a Very Good Thing.  I'll let readers know if he's to sit on the National Security Council.

There will inevitably be speculation that Pauline Neville-Jones's departure from Government was sparked by an internal row over counter-terror policy in general and the Prevent Review (where it is?) in particular.  So it's worth returning to the matter to say that this simply isn't true.  There was no crisis, no rupture, no disagreement.  Sources close to Neville-Jones confirm that she was entirely happy with "the broad drift of policy".

As I indicated, Neville-Jones's replacement, Angela Browning, is an able, popular, plain-spoken lady - and one, furthermore, who sits firmly right-of-party-centre, with (as I remember from my dealings with her in the Commons) strong Euro-sceptic leanings.  By and large, Ministers can't be experts in the briefs they cover: that's not in the nature of Parliamentary government.  So that she isn't a security expert isn't a problem, in my view.

Indeed, it appears that she won't be called the Security Minister, as Neville-Jones was, and won't sit on the National Security Council, as Neville-Jones did.  In other words, it looks as though Browning will do what most Lords Ministers in other Departments do - namely, cover the whole legislative waterfront in the Upper House, and act as a general support to the Secretary of State.  (And having formerly served in the Major Government, Browning isn't a Ministerial novice - another advantage to her appointment.)

Which - it turns out - is what Neville-Jones in effect was already doing.  So how did this expert in her field, originally appointed by Cameron as his National Security Adviser, come to be working much as any other Minister?  (She apparently didn't see a key draft of the Government's counter-terror plans in advance.)  The answer is simple.  Over the past year, it's become clear that Theresa May, unsurprisingly, wants to be boss in her own department - leading on security as she does on everything else.

Which left Neville-Jones with limited scope.  Which is why she quit.  The responsibility for some of her work on cyber-security is set to go to the Cabinet Office, and she will become the Prime Minister's "special representative to business on cyber-security".  The Home Secretary will continue to juggle her security responsibilities with delivering the reduction of immigration to "tens of thousands" and overseeing the introduction of elected police commissioners.

So little change, then - but a loss to Government none the less.  Why?  First, because demanding and difficult though Neville-Jones can be, she's a real expert with sensible views.  Second, because the Government needs a Minister focused on counter-terror and counter-terror alone.  If it doesn't have one, officials are bound to have more play.  I don't want to re-open the debate about Charles Farr, Whitehall's top security adviser, but I'm certainly not convinced that the civil service stands foursquare behind the Prime Minister's Munich speech.

The test of the Prevent Review will be whether it backs that speech or not.  There's no better way of ending that quoting a key part of it -

"Governments must also be shrewder in dealing with those that, while not violent, are certainly, in some cases, part of the problem.

We need to think much harder about who it's in the public interest to work with.

Some organisations that seek to present themselves as a gateway to the Muslim community are showered with public money despite doing little to combat extremism.

As others have observed, this is like turning to a right-wing fascist party to fight a violent white supremacist movement."

Whether or not the review acts on this sentiment will be one of its main tests.


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