Olly Robbins appointed head of government’s new Brexit unit
Home Office second permanent secretary Olly Robbins has been appointed to lead the government’s new Brexit unit tasked with advising the Cabinet Office on options for Britain’s exit from the EU.
The unit which is expected to employ up to 30 civil servants from the Cabinet Office, Treasury and the Foreign Office, was announced on Monday, after the British electorate last week voted in favour of a Brexit.
David Cameron, who is stepping down from his role as prime minister following his referendum defeat, earlier this week appointed Cabinet Office minister Oliver Letwin to oversee the unit and today announced Robbins as the civil servant at its helm.
Letwin, who was described by former cabinet secretary Andrew Turnbull as “completely unsuitable to do that job in the longer term” due to his closeness to Cameron, is likely to move on to other duties once a new prime minister takes office, according to the Financial Times.
Turnbull told a select committee hearing that Letwin had “spent the last six years as a kind of consigliere to the prime minister — has been absolutely at the heart of Number 10. That is not the profile that is needed for carrying this work forward.”
In his new role, Robbins will also be responsible for the European and Global Issues Secretariat (EGIS) – a small, 40-strong, unit in the Cabinet Office, whose primary role it is to coordinate the collective agreement of the government’s international economic and European policy and to provide advice on these matters to the prime minister, deputy prime minister and the Cabinet Office minister for government policy.
Robbins, currently second permanent secretary at the Home Office, has had a long civil service career spanning HM Treasury, Downing Street and the main board of an operational agency.
He was director-general for civil service reform from January 2014 to September 2015, prior to which, he was deputy national security adviser to Cameron and the UK’s National Security Council.
He will take up his new role on Monday, which will free up Tom Scholar to move to the Treasury.
Scholar, who has been leading on talks in Brussels on a new UK deal with the EU prior to the referendum, was appointed permanent secretary (the most senior civil service job) at the Treasury in March.
But he was being kept in his role at the helm of EGIS in the run-up to the referendum with the Treasury top job having temporarily been filled by second permanent secretary John Kingman.
Robbins said today: “It has been a privilege to work at the Home Office and guide the work of the border and immigration services.
“This is vital work and my Home Office colleagues should be very proud of what they do.
“Nonetheless it is a huge responsibility to support the Cabinet in thinking through the issues arising from last week’s referendum outcome, and I look forward to working closely with Oliver Letwin, Sir Jeremy Heywood and other colleagues in the Cabinet Office and around government as we tackle the big issues ahead.”
Cameron added: “The next prime minister and their Cabinet should have all the information they need with which to determine exactly the right approach to take and the right outcome to negotiate Britain leaving the EU.
“The new EU unit in Whitehall, led by a new permanent secretary Oliver Robbins, will examine all the options and possibilities in a neutral way and set out costs and benefits to enable the right decisions to be made.”
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