Liz Truss has scrapped the national security council and merged it with two Boris Johnson-era foreign policy committees in a structure that Labour warned risked diluting the government’s security focus.
Created in 2010 under the coalition, led by David Cameron and Nick Clegg, to better coordinate security policy after the disaster of the Iraq war, the NSC is now to be replaced by a broad eight-strong foreign policy and security council (FPSC).
The NSC brought together senior ministers with spy chiefs and the head of the armed forces to focus on security matters and continued under Theresa May, although it met less frequently when Boris Johnson was prime minister.
John Healey, the shadow defence secretary, said there was a risk that the new committee could become “another Whitehall policy talking-shop”. Britain, he argued, “needs a hard-headed security council ready to act”.
Lord Ricketts, a former national security adviser, said he feared the change would “pull ministers even further towards short-term crisis management and mean that even less time is spent on strategic cross-government thinking – at a time we need that more than ever”.
Cabinet committees are where many of the key government decisions are taken. On Friday, the Cabinet Office quietly released a revised list of cabinet committees including which senior politicians sit on them.
Chaired by Truss, the membership of the FPSC includes James Cleverly, the foreign secretary; Ben Wallace, the defence secretary; Suella Braverman, the home secretary; and Tom Tugendhat, the security minister and defeated leadership candidate.
Its creation is part of a dramatic slimming down of the core operations of government, with 19 full committees pared back to five. The others cover economic affairs, home affairs, climate change and parliamentary business and legislation.
However the “climate action implementation” committee will not be attended by the minister for climate, Graham Stuart, according to the newly released list. Instead, Jacob Rees-Mogg, the business secretary, who has promoted exploitation of fossil fuels and fracking, is listed as one of the members.
Other members of the FPSC are Thérèse Coffey, the health secretary; Kwasi Kwarteng, the chancellor; the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Nadhim Zahawi, and the attorney general, Michael Ellis.
A former senior Whitehall insider described the decision as surprising “in an age of hybrid warfare” and said the cabinet body looked like it was “reverting to a foreign policy committee” – meaning it could be swamped by a broad range of policy and operational matters.
Richard Reeve, the coordinator of Rethinking Security, a thinktank, said he thought the merger “may be Truss’s way of drawing a line under Johnson’s tarnished Global Britain brand”. But he argued that the prime minister and other members “remain wedded to a militarised ‘national security’ approach, especially towards Russia and China”.
Truss has also discarded Johnson’s national security adviser, Sir Stephen Lovegrove, almost immediately after becoming prime minister, replacing him with Sir Tim Barrow, a former ambassador to the EU, one of a string of senior personnel changes across Whitehall.
A government spokesperson said: “The prime minister has agreed an updated cabinet committee structure to best deliver on the government’s priorities. The committees can discuss a wide range of policy areas that are relevant to their terms of reference.”