Brexit negotiations: David Davis defends DExEU team's gender balance

Brexit secretary insists criticism is wide of the mark and points to departmental overall staff balance approaching 50-50

David Davis Credit: Parliament TV

By Jim.Dunton

10 Aug 2017

Brexit secretary David Davis has written to peers to defend his department against criticism that the negotiating team responsible for stewarding the UK’s departure from the European Union lacks sufficient female input.

Last month 56 Labour MPs wrote to prime minister Theresa May, calling on her to address the gender imbalance in the Brexit negotiating team for the July round of talks, arguing that only one-in-nine of its senior members was a woman.

In a letter to the Lords Exiting the EU Committee, Davis responded to a request from Labour peer Baroness Kennedy for further information on the gender balance of the team to insist that the real picture for July’s talks was 60% male to 40% female.


Writing to Lord Jay of Ewelme, who chairs the committee, Davis said it was important to emphasise that the negotiations were a “cross-government effort” and that more than 90 officials from across Whitehall and the UK Representation to the EU had been involved.

“Using the July round as an example, approximately 60% of the UK’s negotiating team were men and 40% were women,” he said. 

“This represents those from Whitehall and UKRep who attended working groups or plenary meetings and is not limited to senior civil servants.”

July’s controversy was focused on senior civil servants, however Davis said the senior team was neither “exhaustive nor necessarily fixed”.

He pointed to the inclusion of DExEU director general Sarah Healey as a senior lead for July’s negotiating round.

Healey is one four female directors currently listed as working at DExEU under permanent secretary Olly Robbins and second permanent secretary Philip Rycroft.

Davis said that as of July 31, DExEU’s overall gender balance was “approximately” 48% male and 52% female. 

“We continue to strive towards achieving diversity across the civil service, representative of modern day Britain, and as Secretary of State for DExEU, I remain committed to supporting that objective,” he said. 

“I will also continue to work for the best possible deal for the UK during these negotiations, and that means using the best expertise we have available to support the negotiation in DExEU and across Whitehall, regardless of gender or any other factor.”

According to a recent Institute for Government data crunch, 54% of civil servants were female in 2016, although the figure for the Senior Civil Service fell to 40% female.

The figures indicated that the Department for Work and Pensions had a female workforce of approaching 70% last year.

Proportionally, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport was the only department to have more female senior civil servants than male ones, with 60% of its highest-ranking roles filled by women.

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