Olly Robbins appointed head of government’s new Brexit unit

By on 29/06/2016 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Oliver Robbins, now heading up the Brexit unit in the Cabinet Office, moved to the Home Office last year, from his previous role as the UK's DG for civil service reform in the Cabinet Office
Olly Robbins has left his DEXEU position, whilst retaining his job in the negotiations and taking on a new role as EU adviser in the Cabinet Office

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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See also:

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

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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