Pauline Neville-Jones, 53, has chaired the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), reporting to ministers on intelligence by MI6 and MI5, for just over a month, before being promoted to one of the top jobs at the Foreign Office.
A highly-respected career diplomat, she was promoted by John Major to replace Len Appleyard, a China expert, who is to become ambassador in Peking - a highly sensitive post in the run-up to the handing over of Hong Kong in 1997.
Miss Neville-Jones will travel with Mr Major on most of his foreign visits and will provide the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary with political advice. Described as shrewd with a 'ruthless logic', she is an expert on European politics, and was head of the Foreign Office policy planning staff under Lord Howe, the former Foreign Secretary.
Officials strongly denied last night that her move from the head of the JIC, evaluating intelligence reports, was linked to the Scott inquiry into arms to Iraq. 'The political director, apart from ministers and permanent under-secretaries, is the key job in the Foreign Office.'
Her appointment to the JIC, replacing Sir Roderic Braithwaite, was announced in October when some of the veils surrounding the JIC were lifted under the 'open government' policy. She was replaced yesterday as chairman of the JIC by Paul Lever, deputy secretary in the Foreign Office.
Mr Lever, 49, educated at St Paul's and Queen's College, Oxford, is a long-serving diplomat, and a former private secretary to Lord Owen, Foreign Secretary in the 1974-79 Labour government. He was head of the UN department within the Foreign Office before acting as ambassador to the conventional arms control negotiations in 1990 in Vienna.
Officials said the moves were part of a 'shunt effect' of Mr Appleyard's appointment, but denied it was a knock-on effect of the move from the British embassy in Washington of Christopher Meyer, who replaces Gus O'Donnell next week as the Prime Minister's chief press secretary.
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