Sir Mark Sedwill: who is the top UK civil servant and why has he resigned from government?

Sir Mark Sedwill has stepped down from his role as Cabinet Secretary and national security adviser (Getty Images)Sir Mark Sedwill has stepped down from his role as Cabinet Secretary and national security adviser (Getty Images)
Sir Mark Sedwill has stepped down from his role as Cabinet Secretary and national security adviser (Getty Images)
Powerful civil servant Sir Mark Sedwill has already been replaced by David Frost as national security adviser

Sir Mark Sedwill, regarded as one of the most powerful officials in government, has announced his resignation.

The civil servant is stepping down from his role as both Cabinet Secretary and the UK's national security adviser amid reports that he is being undermined by allies of Mr Johnson.

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Senior civil servants’ union the FDA say that Sir Mark has been treated in a “cowardly” way.

Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA union, which represents senior officials, 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."

He blasted the tactics as "corrosive and cowardly" and said the Government would be "weaker as a result" of the departure.

Career of Sir Mark Sedwill

After studying at the universities of St Andrews and Oxford Sir Mark joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in 1989, serving in Egypt, Iraq, Cyprus and Pakistan before becoming ambassador to Afghanistan in 2009.

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He served as Nato Senior Civilian Representative in the conflict-hit country before becoming FCO political director in 2012.

Dubbed the ultimate "securocrat", Sir Mark became the civil service's highest-ranking official after running the Home Office between 2013 and 2017.

He was a trusted lieutenant of Theresa May when she was PM and sat in her dwindling trusted inner circle after working with her for years at the Home Office.

As Permanent Secretary, Sir Mark oversaw the establishment of the troubled inquiry into the department's handling of allegations about paedophile activity between the 1970s and 1990s.

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He was also forced to tackle fall-out from the termination of a contract to provide the controversial eBorders programme, when a tribunal ruled the Government should pay out more than £220 million to a US defence firm.

In 2018, he played a role in the response to the poisoning of the Skripals in Salisbury.

Opposition to hard Brexit

Sir Mark was a key figure in Brexit preparations at Whitehall.

The 54-year-old was said to be a strong opponent of a hard Brexit, with the Daily Mail claiming to have gained a copy of a 14-page letter the Cabinet Secretary sent to ministers warning them of the consequences of a no-deal Brexit in 2019.

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And now critics of the government have suggested that Sir Mark will be replaced with a “yes-man”, following the appointment of David Frost as national security adviser.

Ex-cabinet secretary Lord O'Donnell said: "I'm worried about the appointment of David Frost as national security adviser because I'm not quite sure how putting a special adviser in that role works."

He told BBC Radio 4's Today that political appointees were "more likely to be yes-men" rather than "speaking truth to power".

Opposition MPs have pointed the finger at the Prime Minister's chief aide Dominic Cummings, suggesting he played a role in Sir Mark being forced out as head of the Civil Service.

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Mr Cummings is rumoured to have a difficult relationship with Sir Mark, who was appointed Cabinet Secretary in 2018 by Theresa May, with the former PM allowing him to unite the role with his national security adviser job.

Acting leader of the Liberal Democrats, Sir Ed Davey, said: "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."

Mr Johnson showered praise on Sir Mark, telling Times Radio: "He has seen the Government through all sorts of very tough stuff - changes in the premiership, an election, Brexit, dealing with the worst bits of the Covid crisis. He has got a lot more to offer and I am sure he will."