UK's most senior civil servant Sir Mark Sedwill to stand down in September

28 June 2020, 18:06

Sir Sedwill will leave his job as cabinet secretary and national security adviser
Sir Sedwill will leave his job as cabinet secretary and national security adviser. Picture: Getty

By Matt Drake

The head of the civil service, Sir Mark Sedwill, today announced that he will stand down from his post in September.

The development comes after months of negative briefings from government aides and cabinet figures.

The move is seen as a victory for Dominic Cummings who had a tense relationship with Sir Mark.

Sources claim that Mr Cummings, who is Boris Johnson's most senior adviser, saw him as a barrier to Whitehall reform.

But former mandarins are worried the government is trying to politicise the civil service.

David Frost, the Prime Minister’s Europe Adviser and the UK’s Chief Negotiator, will succeed Sir Mark as the Prime Minister’s National Security Adviser. 

Dominic Cummings is said to have told a meeting of political aides this week that "hard rain is going to fall" after explaining how he felt Whitehall's "fundamental" shortcomings had been displayed during the coronavirus crisis, according to The Times.

In his letter to the Prime Minister, Sir Mark said: “Two years ago, when my predecessor fell ill, your predecessor asked me to step in as Cabinet Secretary, and you asked me to continue to support you through Brexit and the Election period. It was obviously right to stay on for the acute phase of the Covid-19 crisis. As you are setting out this week, the Government’s focus is now shifting to domestic and global recovery and renewal.”

“I am fortunate to have served in some of the most challenging and rewarding jobs in national and international public service under seven prime ministers and in extraordinary times. I am grateful for your confidence and friendship as both Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister. I wish you well and, of course, remain at your disposal in the years ahead. It has been a privilege to serve.”

Dominic Cummings is said to have told a meeting of political aides this week that "hard rain is going to fall"
Dominic Cummings is said to have told a meeting of political aides this week that "hard rain is going to fall". Picture: Getty

Boris Johnson has nominated Sir Mark for a life peerage, and has also asked him to lead a new G7 panel on Global Economic Security as the UK assumes the presidency with a mission to ensure that "the global free trading system on which our economy is based remains fair, competitive and secure".

In his response, the Prime Minister paid tribute to Sir Mark’s public service: “Over the last few years I have had direct experience of the outstanding service that you have given to the Government and to the country as a whole.”

“It has been by any standards a massive contribution - but as PM I have particularly appreciated your calm and shrewd advice.”

“You have also spoken with a unique authority - unusual in a Cabinet Secretary - on international affairs and national security; and as National Security Adviser you have done much to keep this country safe. It is therefore great news that you have agreed to continue to serve this country on the international stage, beginning with the UK’s preparations for the G7 summit next year.”

“You have done it all in Whitehall: from Afghanistan to the modernisation of the civil service; from immigration policy to Brexit and defeating coronavirus. After serving for decades with great distinction - and unflappable good humour - I believe you have earned the gratitude of the nation.”

Taking over from Mr Sedwill as national security adviser will be David Frost, a close ally of the Prime Minister who worked with him as an adviser on Brexit.

Welcoming David Frost’s appointment, the Prime Minister said: “I am delighted to appoint David Frost as my next National Security Adviser. He is an experienced diplomat, policy thinker, and proven negotiator, with a strong belief in building Britain’s place in the world.

“He negotiated the deal that finally enabled us to leave the EU in January and in his new role I am confident he will make an equal difference to this country’s ability to project influence for the better.

“I have asked David to help me deliver this Government’s vision for Britain’s place in the world and to support me in reinvigorating our national security architecture and ensuring that we deliver for the British people on the international stage.”

David Frost said: “I am delighted and honoured to have been appointed the next National Security Adviser. I look forward to helping deliver the Prime Minister’s vision for a global Britain, with real influence around the world.

“My aim is to support the Prime Minister in setting a new strategic vision for Britain’s place in the world as an independent country after the end of the EU transition period, and in championing that vision as we strengthen our international relationships.

“To do this effectively we need to strengthen and refocus our international policy apparatus, to ensure that we keep pace with others in the world. The creation of the new Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office is one important step in this. Implementing the Integrated Review of our international capability, and making sure we use the National Security Council to drive its results, are also essential and I look forward to leading both.

“I will of course remain Chief Negotiator for the EU talks and these will remain my top single priority until those negotiations have concluded, one way or another.”