UK Cabinet Secretary steps down for medical treatment

By on 28/06/2018 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Sir Mark Sedwill (Image courtedy: UK Civil Service/Flickr).

Sir Jeremy Heywood, the UK cabinet secretary and head of the civil service, is to temporarily step down whilst he receives treatment for cancer, passing most of his duties to national security adviser Sir Mark Sedwill.

A spokesperson for the Cabinet Office said the country’s most senior civil servant is to undergo more treatment for the cancer with which he was diagnosed last summer, along with a related infection.

Sedwill will take on most of Heywood’s duties, with civil service chief executive John Manzoni leading on managerial issues. “The prime minister has asked Sir Mark Sedwill, the national security adviser, to assume Sir Jeremy’s formal responsibilities as cabinet secretary through to September, a spokesman said. “John Manzoni, chief executive of the civil service, will lead on issues relating to the management of the civil service until Sir Jeremy returns in September.”

Sedwill has for some time been considered a likely replacement for Heywood when he eventually steps down from the cabinet secretary role. He is understood to have impressed prime minister Theresa May after he replaced Dame Helen Ghosh as Home Office permanent secretary in 2013, during May’s stint as home secretary.

Both May and Sedwill enjoyed a relatively smooth period at the Home Office, which is well known as a graveyard of ministerial ambitions. But since their departure, the department has been shaken by the Windrush scandal – with British citizens who arrived in the UK from the Caribbean decades ago becoming the innocent victims of policies designed to squeeze illegal immigration.

In February 2017, seven months after May became PM, Sedwill followed her to the centre of government – replacing Sir Mark Lyall as national security adviser in the Cabinet Office. It is believed that he played a major role in helping win support for the UK from Western allies and NATO in the wake of the recent Skripal poisoning in Salisbury.

Joining the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in 1989, Sedwill spent initial spells in Egypt and Cyprus, as well as Iraq, where he was first secretary and a UN weapons inspector. After a short spell during 1999-2000 as Europe and Middle East press officer at the FCO, he worked as private secretary to foreign secretaries Robin Cook and Jack Straw during 9/11 and in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.

In 2002 Sedwill was appointed deputy high commissioner to Pakistan, followed by a spell as FCO deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa. Between 2006 and 2008 he served as international director at the UK Border Agency, reporting to both the FCO and Home Office.

He then served as ambassador to Afghanistan between 2009 and 2013, additionally becoming NATO’s senior civilian representative in the country between 2010-11. In 2012 he replaced Sir Geoffrey Adams as the FCO’s political director general, before his 2013 appointment as Home Office permanent secretary.

Heywood was appointed cabinet secretary following the announcement of Sir Gus O’Donnell’s retirement in December 2011. From September 2014, he also took on the title of head of the civil service.

Tweeting after the news of Heywood’s renewed medical absence was announced, former cabinet minister Andrew Adonis said: “Jeremy Heywood’s vast circle of friends and associates, past and present, will wish him all the very best and a speedy return.”

About Colin Marrs

Colin is a journalist and editor with long experience in the government and built environment sectors. He cut his teeth in local newspaper journalism before moving to Inside Housing in 1999. He has worked in a variety of roles for built environment titles including Planning, Regeneration & Renewal and Property Week. After a spell at advertising industry bible Campaign magazine, he became a freelancer in 2010. Since then he has edited, local government finance publication and contributed news and features to Civil Service World, Architects’ Journal, Social Housing, management titles and written white papers for major corporate and public sector clients.

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