Boris Johnson dodges questions over whether Mark Sedwill was forced out


No10 aide Simon Case and Government trade chief Antonia Romeo are among those being tipped as the new Cabinet Secretary today after Sir Mark Sedwill announced his departure.  

Boris Johnson has praised the ‘incredible service’ of Sir Mark but he dodged questions over whether he was forced out in a power struggle with senior adviser Dominic Cummings.

The PM also played down claims he is looking for a Brexiteer for the crucial job, telling reporters during a visit to a construction site that the great thing about the civil service was that politicians never know their personal political views. 

Names being widely touted include Simon Case, who was recently drafted in to be the Downing Street permanent secretary and tasked with leading the two-metre social distancing review, and Ms Romeo, the top mandarin at the Trade Department who has a strong US and business background. 

However, there is speculation that Mr Johnson and Mr Cummings – who has been a long-standing critic of Whitehall group-think – might want someone from outside the government machine. 

Sir Mark, 55, last night confirmed he will step down as both Cabinet Secretary and national security adviser in September, after more than 30 years in Government service. 

In an email to colleagues this morning he urged them to uphold the civil service values of ‘honesty, integrity, impartiality, compassion’, saying he was ‘proud’ of what had been achieved. 

Sir Mark Sedwill (pictured in Westminster today) has confirmed he will step down as both Cabinet Secretary and national security adviser in September, after more than 30 years in Government service

Simon Case

Antonia Romeo

Names being widely touted to replace Sir Mark include Simon Case (left), who was recently drafted in to be the Downing Street permanent secretary and tasked with leading the two-metre social distancing review, and Antonia Romeo (right), the top mandarin at the Trade Department

Mr Johnson dodged questions about whether Sir Mark's departure was linked to a power struggle with Dominic Cummings (pictured leaving his London home today)

Mr Johnson dodged questions about whether Sir Mark’s departure was linked to a power struggle with Dominic Cummings (pictured leaving his London home today)

Mr Johnson (pictured today) and Sir Mark finalised his departure at a private lunch on June 2, and agreed to try to paint the departure as amicable

Mr Johnson (pictured today) and Sir Mark finalised his departure at a private lunch on June 2, and agreed to try to paint the departure as amicable

Who could take over from Sir Mark Sedwill as Cabinet Secretary? 

Sir Mark Sedwill has announced he is stepping down as head of the civil service and national security adviser in September after claims of a power struggle with Dominic Cummings.

The PM’s EU negotiator David Frost will take over the national security element of Sir Mark’s role.

But it is not clear who will be the new Cabinet Secretary – one of the most influential jobs in the country.

Here are some of the main names in the frame:

Simon Case

The recruitment of Simon Case as the permanent secretary to No10 was seen as sealing the fate of Sir Mark.

Downing Street had not had its own permanent secretary for eight years – since former Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood gave up the title.

Mr Case, 41, previously worked on the Brexit negotiations, and is well-regarded within the PM’s close circle.

He was drafted back into the civil service from being private secretary to Prince William.

It was he, rather than Sir Mark, who was tasked with carrying out the review into the two-metre social distancing rule that resulted in it being downgraded to ‘one metre plus’.

However, Mr Case’s relative youth could weigh against him – he would be the youngest Cabinet Secretary in living memory.  

Antonia Romeo

The permanent secretary at the Trade Department is frequently tipped for promotion.

She has a very US and business-friendly track record, having served as UK consul general in New York.

As an economist, she could also fit Mr Cummings’ profile of having expertise in maths and data.  

However, the 45-year-old has been tipped to take over from Simon McDonald as the top civil servant at the Foreign Office.

Chris Wormald

Currently permanent secretary at the Department of Health, Chris Wormald would be seen as the establishment choice for the top job.

A Whitehall veteran, he previously served as the most senior civil servant at the Department for Education while Michael Gove was the Secretary of State and forcing through reforms despite resistance from what Mr Cummings branded ‘the blob’.

He also worked in the office of Nick Clegg while he was Deputy PM.

Sir Chris has been permanent secretary at DoH since 2016, but appears to have been damaged by the handling of the coronavirus crisis. 

Melanie Dawes

The chief executive of Ofcom is another experience Whitehall contender who could challenge for the head job from outside the tent.

She was permanent secretary at the Communities Department from 2015, and impressed successive Tory PMs.

However, she was only appointed to lead Ofcom in February.

Suma Chakrabarti 

The president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development since 2012, Sir Suma’s second term is due to come to an end shortly.

He has previously worked at the IMF and World Bank, and served as permanent secretary at the Ministry of Justice. 

Born in West Bengal in 1959 before moving to the UK aged five, he was the highest ranking Indian civil servant.  

Sir Mark’s departure comes just days after Mr Cummings is reported to have told Government advisers ‘a hard rain is coming’ to Whitehall – an apparent reference to the radioactive showers that follow a nuclear blast.

He is said to have advised Mr Johnson to sack the former diplomat at the end of last month following clashes over the scale and timing of the planned overhaul.

But Mr Johnson and Sir Mark finalised his departure at a private lunch on June 2, and agreed to try to paint the departure as amicable.

Amid a backlash from unions and former mandarins, David Frost, the PM’s EU negotiator, is being installed as the new national security adviser. 

In his interview with Times Radio this morning, Mr Johnson said: ‘Sir Mark has given incredible service to this country. He came in at a very difficult time. 

‘He has seen the Government through all sorts of very tough stuff – changes in the premiership, an election, Brexit, dealing with the worst bits of the Covid crisis. He has got a lot more to offer and I am sure he will.’ 

He played down suggestions that Sir Mark had been the subject of a series of negative briefings in the media. 

‘I try not to read too much of the negative briefing. There is an awful lot of stuff that comes out in the papers to which I wouldn’t automatically attach the utmost credence,’ he said. 

‘People brief all kinds of things into the newspapers. All I can tell you is Mark is an outstanding servant to this country and will continue to be so.’ 

Speaking to broadcasters separately on his visit in west London this morning, Mr Johnson rejected the idea that he wants a Brexiteer.

‘I think the great thing about the civil service is that nobody should know, least of all me,’ he said. 

‘I think we have a wonderful civil service. They are impartial, they are the best in the world, and who knows what his or her views will be.’ 

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson insisted it was not unusual for a special adviser such as Mr Frost to be appointed national security adviser. 

‘That’s what you see in the United States, that’s what you see in many other countries,’ he said. 

Boris Johnson insisted the Cabinet Secretary (pictured together last June with Dominic Cummings right) had 'seen the government through all sorts' since taking on the role two years ago - and hinted that he could contribute in future

Boris Johnson insisted the Cabinet Secretary (pictured together last June with Dominic Cummings right) had ‘seen the government through all sorts’ since taking on the role two years ago – and hinted that he could contribute in future 

No10 dismisses criticism over ‘US-style’ appointment of new national security chief 

Downing Street has defended the appointment of the UK’s chief EU negotiator David Frost as the next national security adviser (NSA). 

The Prime Minister has faced criticism for appointing a political special adviser to a position previously filled by permanent civil servants. 

However the PM’s official spokesman said that such appointments were not unusual in other countries. 

‘The appointment of the NSA is always a decision for the Prime Minister,’ the spokesman said. 

‘It is not unusual in other countries for ambassadors to serve as national security advisers and ambassadors can be political appointees. David Frost has the status of an ambassador. 

‘The First Civil Service Commissioner has agreed the appointment. That is consistent with the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act.’ 

‘This is a man who has impeccable public service, very much a background that similar people who have held this role in the past before have come from having worked in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for an awful long time, so this isn’t an unusual appointment.’ 

Ex-cabinet secretary Lord O’Donnell said: ‘I’m worried about the appointment of David Frost as national security adviser because I’m not quite sure how putting a special adviser in that role works.’ He told BBC Radio 4’s Today that political appointees were ‘more likely to be yes-men’ rather than ‘speaking truth to power’. 

Bob Kerslake, a former head of the Civil Service who went on to advise Labour under Jeremy Corbyn, accused Number 10 ‘or those around it’ of working to ‘undermine’ the ex-diplomat.

Speaking to the Guardian, Lord Kerslake said: ‘I fear from some of the press briefing that had obviously gone on that the Civil Service is being made the fall guy for mistakes made in the handling of the pandemic.’

Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA, which represents public officials, said: ‘No 10, or those around it, has sought to undermine Sir Mark and the leadership of the civil service, with a series of anonymous briefings against him over many months.’ He blasted the tactics as ‘corrosive and cowardly’ and said the Government would be ‘weaker as a result’ of the departure.

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