Theresa May under fire over spy tipped to be top mandarin – and his love for her glamorous aideThe expected promotion of Charles Farr has sparked a heated debate He is said to have impressed Mrs May with handling of security mattersMr Farr is in a relationship with Mrs May's special adviser Fiona Cunningham
23:28 GMT, 1 December 2012
Home Secretary Theresa May was challenged by Labour last night after it emerged that a former MI6 spy in a relationship with her senior Tory adviser is tipped to be appointed top Home Office mandarin.
The expected promotion of ex-spook Charles Farr, the official most closely linked to ‘Big Brother Britain’, has sparked a heated debate among senior civil servants – and MPs.
Unmarried Mr Farr, 53, the most powerful spy figure in Whitehall, is currently Director of the Office for Security and Counter Terrorism in Mrs May’s department.
Special adviser: Fiona Cunningham is in a relationship with Charles Farr who is tipped to be appointed top Home Office mandarin
He is frontrunner to succeed former Home Office Permanent Secretary Dame Helen Ghosh.
Ambitious Mr Farr is said to have impressed Mrs May with his handling of sensitive security matters. At present he is responsible for the so-called ‘Snooper’s Charter’ laws giving police, security services and the taxman the power to monitor the public’s every internet click.
And he is credited with persuading Mrs May to back the controversial drive to curb the radicalisation of young Muslim men.
Mr Farr is in a relationship with Mrs May’s glamorous special adviser, Fiona Cunningham, 39.
Highly-regarded Ms Cunningham is one of the most powerful figures in the Home Office and advises Mrs May on everything, from detailed policy matters to her choice of clothes.
Key role: Home Secretary Theresa May with Ms Cunningham. Ms Cunningham is one of the most powerful figures in the Home Office and advises Mrs May on everything, from detailed policy matters to her choice of clothes
Dame Helen Ghosh left unexpectedly in September and insiders believe the delay over choosing a replacement is linked to Mr Farr’s candidacy.
Some officials have questioned whether it is appropriate for a former spy to have such a senior Whitehall position.
Labour MP Keith Vaz, who chairs the all-party Commons Select Committee on Home Affairs, wrote to Whitehall chiefs last week demanding to know if Mrs May will have a say in deciding who gets Dame Helen’s job.
Mr Vaz claims the delay is causing chaos. He told The Mail on Sunday: ‘There is a leadership vacuum at the top of the Home Office that must be resolved to deal with urgent issues.’ A senior Tory figure with close contacts at MI6 said: ‘I am concerned at the prospect of Mr Farr running the Home Office. He was not popular at MI6 and his secretive manner is not in keeping with the requirements of modern Whitehall. Having a Permanent Secretary who is in a relationship with a Conservative official who works for Mrs May could put the Home Secretary in a tricky position.’
Ambitious: Former spy Charles Farr is said to have impressed Mrs May with his handling of sensitive security matters
As a spy, sandy-haired and bespectacled Mr Farr flew round Afghanistan delivering hundreds of thousands of US dollars to Afghan warlords to stop them growing opium.
An intelligence source said: ‘Charles was very good at his job, but he was not everyone’s cup of tea. Let’s just say he does not suffer fools gladly.’
He was thwarted in his ambition to be head of MI6 when rival and super-smooth Foreign Office diplomat John Sawers was given the job in 2009. Friends say Mr Farr sees becoming chief mandarin at the Home Office as ‘the next best thing’.
A friend of divorcee Ms Cunningham said: ‘It is nonsense to suggest there would be any conflict of interest if Charles becomes Permanent Secretary. Fiona works for the Home Secretary, not the Permanent Secretary. There is a clear separation between the two. They have both behaved with total professionalism.’