Exclusive: Meetings of Theresa May’s National Security
Council were repeatedly put on hold because the government
became “consumed” by Brexit, the prime minister’s former
national security adviser tells Business Insider.
Sir Mark Lyall Grant tells BI that May’s attempts to
forge a new “global Britain” are stalling because of the
all-consuming nature of Britain’s exit from the EU.
“Meetings were cancelled at the last minute because
there had to be another meeting on Brexit,” he said.
LONDON — Theresa May’s government has been forced to cancel
crucial meetings of its National Security Council because it has
become “consumed” by Brexit, her former national security adviser
has told Business Insider.
Sir Mark Lyall Grant, who was the national security advisor
to the prime minister until April last year, told Business
Insider that meetings of the National Security Council were
repeatedly put on hold due to Britain’s exit from the EU.
“Theresa May was very clear that she wanted to continue meetings
of the National Security Council on a regular basis [after the EU
referendum] but there began to be more disruption,” he said.
“Meetings were cancelled at the last minute because there had to
be another meeting on Brexit,” he said.
The National Security Council, which is chaired by the prime
minister, meets in order to discuss how to deliver the
government’s national security objectives, including its response
to terrorist attacks and other external threats.
Lyall Grant said that May’s ambition for Britain to be an
outward-looking country outside the EU was also being hampered by
the fact that the government is now “consumed” by Brexit.
“The government is so consumed by Brexit, and there is a risk
this will continue well beyond March next year,” he told Business
“That means you could lose your opportunities to develop your
“Global Britain” agenda, and that in turn could have an impact on
your national security, writ large,” he said.
He said that meetings with other world leaders had been held back
because of the all consuming nature of Brexit.
“The ability and time available to the PM to meet foreign leaders
and to travel has also been more curtailed in recent years than
it has been in the past,” he said.
He pointed to the UK’s absence from
a summit meeting on Syria this week — attended by the leaders
of France, Germany, Turkey, and Russia — as an example of the UK
abstaining from its traditional global leadership role because
the government is so consumed with Brexit policy.
“The government has set out its ambitions that we will not be
insular, and that is good and right and proper,” he said.
“Nonetheless, you can get insularisation by default if fewer of
your ministers are travelling overseas, and you’re not able to be
involved with the big summit meetings.”
However, he said that Brexit was unlikely to have a significant
direct impact on the UK’s national security or its international
standing, because neither depended on Britain’s membership
of the EU. Much more important, he said, was Britain’s
participation within non-EU agencies such as NATO, the UN
Security Council, and the Five Eyes intelligence community.
Nonetheless, he said that the lack of “political bandwidth” as
officials focus on Brexit at the expense of other policy areas
could hamper the government’s stated goal to maintain its
The government’s opponents accused May of taking her eye off the
ball on national security.
“These words from someone so senior and who worked so closely
with the Prime Minister should be a wake up call for Downing
Street,” Liberal Democrat MP and Best for Britain campaigner
Layla Moran said.
“It seems it’s not just schools, the NHS and children’s services
that are falling off the agenda but also the vital work of
“The government have been consumed with trying to turn this pigs
ear Brexit into anything that looks borderline acceptable to the
public, even though it just won’t work. The civil service is
being stretched towards breaking point by this ongoing car crash
‘We are on the positive side of the ledger’
Since leaving government, Lyall Grant has taken up a position as
a senior advisor at CTD Advisors, a firm which provides strategic
advice to firms expanding into emerging markets, and he said that
Brexit provided an opportunity for firms to build trade links
outside Europe at a time when firms are placing “an increasing
focus on the rest of the world.”
He also remains confident that Britain will strike a deal with
Brussels, because Britain is a “net contributor” to European
security and because he said it was in both parties’ interests
that the UK continued to participate within information-sharing
agencies such as Europol, the Schengen Information System, and
the European Arrest Warrant.
“We are on the positive side of the ledger,” he said.
“European leaders understand and recognise that.
“By the time negotiations come to and end, there will undoubtedly
be a deal that will allow cooperation to continue because it is
in the Europeans’ interests and it is in our interests.”
Downing Street were contacted for comment but did not respond by
the time of publication.
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