Oliver Letwin ‘completely unsuitable’ to lead Brexit unit, says former cabinet secretary

By on 28/06/2016 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Lord Turnbull was head of the UK civil service and cabinet secretary between 2002 and 2005 before being succeeded by Gus O'Donnell
Lord Turnbull was head of the UK civil service and cabinet secretary between 2002 and 2005 before being succeeded by Gus O'Donnell

Oliver Letwin, the minister leading the UK government’s civil service Brexit unit, is “completely unsuitable” for the job, former cabinet secretary Andrew Turnbull has said today.

The government yesterday announced the new unit, based in the Cabinet Office, made up of civil servants from the department, Treasury and the Foreign Office to look at options for the UK’s exit from the EU.

But Turnbull told a Treasury select committee hearing this morning that he believed this job should be carried out by someone else.

He said: “In my view, [Letwin] is completely unsuitable to do that job in the longer term.

“I mean he’s spent the last six years absolutely at the heart of Number 10 [the prime minister’s office], and that is not the profile that is needed for carrying this work forward.”

An MP since 1997, Letwin became minister for government policy in the Cabinet Office in May 2010.

He was appointed chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster on 15 July 2014 – a role which involves advising the prime minister on how to implement government policy; coordinating constitutional reform; the resilience of the UK’s infrastructure; and reducing regulatory burdens.

His office has been approached for a comment.

Turnbull was head of the civil service and cabinet secretary between 2002 and 2005 before being succeeded by Gus O’Donnell. He now sits in the House of Lords as a crossbencher.

Britain on Thursday voted 52% to 48% in favour of a Brexit.

Following the referendum, UK prime minister David Cameron tendered his resignation and said he would leave office as soon as a new Conservative party leader is elected by September 2.

Discussions are now underway as to when official Brexit negotiations should start, which has to be triggered by invoking Article 50 direction of the Lisbon Treaty.

The Leave Campaign would like to see more informal negotiations carried out before official proceedings are started. However, Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday ruled out any possibility of informal talks on Britain leaving the EU before it files formal notice of its intention to go.

Turnbull also told the committee that Article 50 should not be triggered before next year, given the amount of preparation required: “There’s a lot of work to get through between now and September 2 – a new cabinet, a new front bench, they have to get themselves into their jobs and then get down to the details of the trading arrangements; issues of passporting; movement of people, the juxtaposition of if you want the single market access you have to have free movement of people.

“We seem to be saying that we want a tradeoff between the two. Where can we find a balance that would be optimum between these two objectives? That’s going to require a lot of analysis and a lot of negotiation.”

He also warned against conducting Brexit negotiations at a time when France and Germany will be holding general elections next year, because “we don’t want to trigger it and find Mrs Merkel doesn’t want to talk to us because she has bigger fish to fry at home.”


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See also:

Brexit will be ‘largest legal, legislative and bureaucratic project in British history’, says former UK Treasury Solicitor

Clash over civil service advice in EU referendum

Bank of England’s independence under threat in EU referendum row

EU issues Poland with official warning over constitutional court changes

Sir Paul Jenkins, former UK Treasury Solicitor: EU Referendum interview

Managing the EU Migration Crisis

European Parliament orders Poland’s government to reverse changes to country’s top court

A family reunification dilemma for the EU

About Winnie Agbonlahor

Winnie is news editor of Global Government Forum. She previously reported for Civil Service World - the trade magazine for senior UK government officials. Originally from Germany, Winnie first came to the UK in 2006 to study a BA in Journalism & Russian at the University of Sheffield. She is bilingual in English and German, and, after spending an academic year abroad in Russia and reporting for the Moscow Times, Winnie also speaks Russian fluently.

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