UK's top civil servant Sir Mark Sedwill to stand down

Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Paul Brand

The UK's top civil servant has announced he is standing down from the position.

Sir Mark Sedwill has announced he will leave his role as Cabinet Secretary, National Security Adviser and head of the Civil Service in September.

It is understood the government will return to having a separate cabinet secretary and national security advisor.

One of Boris Johnson's closest allies, David Frost, is to replace Sir Mark as national security advisor.

Mr Frost is the UK's current Brexit negotiator with the EU.

ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston also reports Mr Frost is close to the prime minister's chief aide, Dominic Cummings, and the departure of Sir Mark is part of "Cummings' long-standing plan to end Whitehall groupthink by replacing traditional mandarins with data scientists and physicists".

Robert also reported there will be a formal process to appoint the new cabinet secretary, meaning Sir Mark will remain in the post for some time.

In a statement, Sir Mark said it had been "a privilege to serve" in his role, following more than 30 years in government service.

"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," he said.

ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston explains how Sir Mark Sedwill's announcement is "not a brilliant start" for this government after the coronavirus crisis

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".

The Prime Minister said: "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."

ITV News Political Correspondent Paul Brand explains how significant Sir Mark Sedwill's announcement is

Shadow minister for the cabinet office, Helen Hayes paid tribute to Sir Mark's "dedication".

“We pay tribute to the work Mark Sedwill has done," the Labour MP said.

"He has been a dedicated public servant and has run the civil service in difficult times.

“On the day it was revealed millions of jobs across the country could be under threat in the coming months, it is very concerning that Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings are preoccupied with reshuffling Whitehall.”

Sir Mark's departure is seen by many as a win for the PM's chief aide, Dominic Cummings. Credit: PA

Number 10 on Saturday announced a series of reforms which will see Mr Johnson given a firmer grip over his Cabinet.

Mr Johnson will chair a number of new "strategic committees" as part of his Cabinet operation, which government sources said would be "responsible for setting direction on the government's domestic, international and economic priorities".

Sir Mark's departure is seen as a win for the PM's chief aide Dominic Cummings who is, according to The Times, 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.

Sir Ed Davey, acting leader of the Liberal Democrats, said Sir Mark’s resignation as Cabinet Secretary showed the political strength of the Prime Minister’s chief aide Dominic Cummings.

He said: "Boris Johnson is clearly ready to grant Cummings his every wish when it comes to politicising the civil service and sweeping out those who may try to hold his Government to account.

"Sedwill’s departure threatens to introduce yet more instability into the Civil Service at a time when it is already stretched to breaking point by the Covid-19 crisis, the largest economic downturn in living memory and the imminent threat of a no-deal Brexit.

“The Prime Minister must be absolutely clear about any further plans for Civil Service reform, and must guarantee full parliamentary scrutiny of these.

"Our world-class civil service fulfils a vital role, we cannot afford to see it hollowed out."