‘Mr Big of no-deal Brexit’ to leave civil service

Latest move comes after Institute for Government warns government may never be as ready for no deal as it was in March

Photo: PA

By Richard Johnstone

28 Jun 2019

Tom Shinner, the civil servant who has led preparations for a no deal Brexit at the Department for Exiting the European Union, is to leave the civil service.

The Guardian reported yesterday that Shinner, who has been director of policy and delivery coordination at DExEU since the department was formed in 2016, is to leave to take a job in the private sector.

In a statement to the paper, the department said Shinner's departure would not affect the “high standards” of delivery at the department at a time when both of the candidates to replace Theresa May as prime minister have not ruled out a possible no deal exit.


DExEU said: “Tom Shinner joined the department when it formed in July 2016 and since then has led the teams coordinating across Whitehall the government’s domestic policy and delivery preparations to leave the EU.

“He will hand over after three years in post, and later this year will leave the civil service to take on a new opportunity in the private sector. Careful succession planning has been put in place to ensure the department maintains its high standards of delivery.”

Prior to joining DExEU, Shinner had served as director of strategy at the Department for Education. He was described as “a Mr Big of no deal in Whitehall” by Stewart Jackson, former aide to the ex-Brexit secretary David Davis, who was believed to be referring to Shinner when he wrote in The Times last September: “There is actually a Mr Big of no deal in Whitehall, very clever and very well paid, who was so integral to the process we joked that if he was hit by a No 53 bus on Parliament Square, Brexit wouldn’t happen!”.

His move is the latest in a number of moves of senior Brexit staff. These include Philip Rycroft’s departure as DExEU permanent secretary and his replacement by Clare Moriarty, which left the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs looking for new chief.

Other departures since the UK agreed an extension to the Article 50 process that moved the nation’s potential departure day from March 29 to October 31 include Karen Wheeler, the director general for border co-ordination at HM Revenue and Customs, who has worked on ensuring there is no hard border on the island of Ireland, and Justin Russell, who was in charge of no-deal Brexit preparations at the Ministry of Justice. He has been put forward as the next chief probation inspector.

In a blog post written prior to Shinner’s departure, IfG Brexit programme director Joe Owen said staff shifts across government meant expertise would be lost ahead of the UK’s new planned exit date.

As most senior managers in the civil service change jobs after two years, “many of the 16,000 civil servants working on Brexit will now be looking for a change of scenery”, he warned.

“Whether it is responsibility for critical no deal plans, key pieces of Brexit legislation or important policy positions, the architects of much of the UK government’s Brexit preparations are unlikely to be in the same place by the autumn,” Owen said. “Inevitably, this means that the UK government is unlikely to be as ready for no deal in October as it was back in March.”

Asked to to comment on the impact of staff moves across the civil service on Brexit planning, a Cabinet Office spokesperson told Civil Service World: “The civil service continues its work and extensive preparations to leave the EU. When a staff member leaves any role, arrangements are made so that business continues as normal.“

This is despite the fact that the final two candidates for Conservative leader and prime minister are refusing to rule out a no deal Brexit.

Frontrunner Boris Johnson has said that if he is unable to reach a revised exit deal with the EU by the end of October the UK would leave without an agreement, although he has also said that this happening would be a “million-to-one against”.

Rival Jeremy Hunt has said he would only leave the EU without a deal in October if there was no prospect of leaving with one, but has not ruled out a further extension to the exit process if a possible agreement was close.

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