MPs cry foul as UK’s top civil servant Mark Sedwill resigns

Opposition politicians say Dominic Cummings played behind-the-scenes role in ousting

 Mark Sedwill  has announced he will stand down from his role as cabinet secretary, national security adviser and head of the civil service. File photograph: Christof Stache/AFP/Getty Images.

Mark Sedwill has announced he will stand down from his role as cabinet secretary, national security adviser and head of the civil service. File photograph: Christof Stache/AFP/Getty Images.

 

Britain’s opposition MPs claim Dominic Cummings played a behind-the-scenes role in ousting Sir Mark Sedwill from his position at the top of the civil service.

Sir Mark, the most powerful official in the UK government, announced on Sunday he had agreed to stand down from his role as both cabinet secretary and the UK’s national security adviser.

It comes after multiple reports suggested Mr Cummings, Boris Johnson’s chief aide, had encouraged the prime minister to give the former diplomat the boot.

In his letter to Mr Johnson announcing his resignation, Sir Mark inferred that the prime minister had wanted him to go, writing: “We have agreed that I will stand down and leave government service at the end of September.”

Sir Mark’s removal was seen as a win for Mr Cummings who, according to the London Times, is said to have told a meeting of political aides this week that a “hard rain is going to fall” after explaining he felt Whitehall’s shortcomings had been uncovered during the coronavirus crisis.

Outcry over the resignation comes as EU and British Brexit negotiators meet in Brussels on Monday to try break the Brexit deadlock.

The EU’s Michel Barnier and the UK’s David Frost will meet in person in Brussels for the first time in months due to the Covid-19 pandemic as the sides aim to reboot the stalled talks on their new relationship to be able to seal a deal before the end of the year.

‘Ready to grant his every wish’

Sir Ed Davey, acting leader of the Liberal Democrats, said Mr Johnson had given his de facto chief of staff what he wanted in forcing the cabinet secretary out.

“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,” said the former energy secretary.

Labour’s shadow housing secretary Thangam Debbonaire questioned the timing of the announcement and insinuated Mr Cummings had worked with the PM on the decision.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour, she said: “Why should this happen now?

“Why have Dominic Cummings and Boris Johnson decided that now is the time for a hard rain to fall on our loyal civil servants?

“We are in the middle of a national, an international crisis of massive proportions.”

It is not the first time Mr Cummings, recently in the firing line after it was revealed he drove 260 miles during the lockdown when travel was still banned, is thought to have intervened in the firing of a senior official.

He infuriated ex-chancellor Sajid Javid by sacking one of his then aides, Sonia Khan, and having her escorted from Downing Street by police after apparently blaming her for the leaking of a Treasury report on the risks from Brexit.

The FDA, the civil servants’ union, claimed Sir Mark had been “cowardly” briefed against.

General secretary Dave Penman 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.” – PA