Mark Sedwill, the UK’s top civil servant, is expected to step down as Boris Johnson plans to split Whitehall’s senior roles as secretary to the cabinet and national security adviser.
Sir Mark, who has been secretary to the cabinet since 2018 and a national security adviser since 2017, was recently “unhappy”, according to his colleagues. This week rumors have spread to the highest levels of the public service his departure is in preparation.
A senior cabinet minister has told the Financial Times that he expects Sir Mark to step down imminently. Several Whitehall officials added that Sir Mark’s exit as cabinet secretary had already been agreed with Mr. Johnson and that he was unlikely to remain his security adviser. The main candidate to replace him in the role of the NSA is David Frost, currently Prime Minister’s Brexit advisor and former diplomat.
The exit from the High Mandarin should be part of a larger upheaval in the public service overseen by the Prime Minister’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, and Cabinet Minister Michael Gove. Johnson’s allies have said that the Prime Minister would use Sir Mark’s departure to divide the roles he held and restore separate posts.
Number 10 declined to say whether Sir Mark would be in office by the end of the year. “Sir Mark continues to work closely with the management team to ensure that the government receives all the advice it needs,” said a spokesperson. The Cabinet Office and Downing Street also declined to comment on an imminent split from the NSA secretary and cabinet positions.
Interior Minister Priti Patel, however, said on Sunday that major Whitehall reforms would begin soon. “This is popular government, respecting the priorities of the people, and in fact, any reform government will be based on the type of delivery that our Prime Minister wants to conduct for our great country and, obviously, will have the right type of support around him to achieve this. “She told Sky News.
Government insiders have said that Sir Mark’s departure as a national security adviser should be announced first, while his exit and the appointment of his successor to head the public service may come later.
Whitehall officials said several candidates were under consideration to replace Sir Mark as security adviser. In addition to Mr Frost, Tim Barrow, currently the British ambassador to the EU, is also in the running. Alex Ellis, currently an assistant national security adviser, could replace Sir Mark on a temporary basis while Frost leads the Brexit trade negotiations.
Sir Mark was critical by colleagues for having occupied the two roles of secretary to the cabinet and adviser to national security. Peter Ricketts, who was the UK’s first national security adviser from 2010 to 2012, welcomed the moves to divide the two.
“This is a golden opportunity to recreate the much-needed role of national security adviser. It was more than a full-time job when I did it and the world is an order of magnitude more dangerous and unpredictable now, ”he said.
A senior official said that Sir Mark could choose a career in the private sector. “Mark is someone with a great intellect and enormous experience. He can earn 10 times more in the private sector if he wishes. It would be understandable if he simply thought that “it is not worth fighting”. “
Another Whitehall figure said that the upheaval seemed as much on the part of Mr. Gove and Mr. Cummings as their “people” were responsible rather than the pursuit of a radical political program: “It’s all about control “
“Senior officials and permanent secretaries all say how toxic the atmosphere has been for the past four or five months. Some permanent secretaries say, “I’m not going to stay and finish my term,” said the official.
The departure of Sir Mark has been awaited for a few months in a context of growing tensions with the entourage of the Prime Minister. A Johnson ally said the Prime Minister was on the verge of firing Sir Mark in late May when Cummings and other advisers argued that he was an obstacle to reform. But Mr. Johnson was later persuaded by chief strategic adviser Eddie Lister and Martin Reynolds, his chief private secretary, not to withdraw it.
Gove presented his manifesto for public service reform on Saturday in a conference entitled “The privilege of the public service”. Quoting former US President Franklin D Roosevelt, the Cabinet Office Minister said that the center of government needed to be reformed to improve the delivery and policy of the “forgotten man.”
“Roosevelt recognized that in the face of a crisis that had shaken confidence in government, it was not just a change of personnel and rhetoric that was necessary but a change in structure, ambition and organization”, said he declared. Gove said public service recruiting needs to be reformed to broaden the skills base in Whitehall. He also suggested that more government services be transferred out of London.