Home secretary Priti Patel’s permanent appointment as security minister “is a clear sign” the government has little concern for the safety of citizens, claims Labour.
Patel fills the vacant security minister post –the most senior role outside cabinet – and will take on 17 responsibilities, as listed on the government’s website, that include: economic crime, oversight of fraud during the Covid-19 pandemic, Grenfell, royal and VIP protection, extradition, counter terrorism, hostile state activity and online harms.
Two months ago, Patel was referred to the Serious Fraud Office (along with Matt Hancock) over PPE contracts, while in November last year she kept her cabinet position despite being found to have breached the ministerial code.
Chaos caused by already struggling home secretary
Labour’s shadow minister for security, Conor McGinn said the home secretary is already overstretched and that her appointment is a “clear sign that the Conservatives don’t take the safety of our citizens seriously enough.
“Getting rid of a specific, day-to-day, senior government minister responsible for security and counter-terrorism when Britain’s national security is under threat 24 hours a day, seven days a week, is an abdication of responsibility.”
McGinn added: “From the chaos in the channel to the Police Federation declaring no confidence in her, the home secretary is clearly struggling to deliver on her current responsibilities, it is unwise she takes on this additional role.”
Patel’s appointment follows criticism this week – in the wake of the Russian spy story – that the vital position of security minister was still vacant five weeks after James Brokenshire stepped down from the role.
The Times reports that Patel has been covering the portfolio since January – when Brokenshire took leave of absence for illness – and the Home Office has stressed the home secretary has overall responsibility for all areas, including security.
Role requires ‘comprehensive understanding of the ever-complex threat’
The Conservative chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on policing and security, Sir Paul Beresford, appeared to agree with McGinn, commenting: “I would have thought there’s enough there to keep an individual absolutely overloaded with work. I hope that she [Patel] would recognise the importance of having somebody competent there.”
Beresford said it was crucial for counter-terror officials and security services to have direct ministerial contact on security matters.
Chairman of the Commons defence committee, Conservative MP, Tobias Ellwood said: “This is arguably one of the most critical ministerial responsibilities outside of Cabinet, requiring a comprehensive understanding of the ever-complex threat picture.”
He added: “The role is fundamental in linking traditionally siloed security facing Whitehall departments and coordinating and executing government security strategy.”
Labour call for Tory co-chair’s removal
Elsewhere, Labour have called for Ben Elliot’s removal as Tory co-chair following new allegations of cronyism to emerge around the well-connected Tory fundraiser.
The nephew of the wife of the future king, is alleged to have been lobbied by Saudi and Bahraini diplomats over competing Middle Eastern groups affiliated to the Conservative party, one of which was set up by a client of one of Elliot’s companies.
Chair of the Labour party, Anneliese Doods, said her Tory counterpart has been allowed to “blur the lines between private business activities and his public responsibility”.
A spokesperson for the Conservative party said Elliot’s work as co-chair “is entirely separate from his other interests” and that any discussions he would have had with a Middle Eastern group “would have been in his role as party co-chairman. The Conservative party has no involvement in foreign policy – that is a matter for the government.”