Officials in the Cabinet Office and Department for Exiting the European Union are working as one team under a revised government structure intended to both continue negotiations and drive government preparations for a no-deal Brexit.
In comments to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee yesterday, cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill said civil servants from both departments were working on both talks over a Brexit deal and Brexit preparations, which are being led by Michael Gove as the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (CDL) in the Cabinet Office.
“Officials in DExEU and the Cabinet Office are working essentially in a single collective group,” he told the committee. “A lot of DExEU officials are supporting CDL in the operational preparations. We decided because of the pressure of time not to do the traditional big MoG [machinery of government] changes because it would have disrupted those preparations.
“Officials in DExEU and the Cabinet Office in essentially one team are supporting CDL on preparedness, deal or no deal; Stephen Barclay, the DExEU secretary of state on the negotiations he is perusing at his level, deal or no deal; and David Frost, the prime minister’s sherpa, on his negotiations as well. And they all work under the supervision of Clare Moriarty, who is the permanent secretary of DExEU.”
A written ministerial statement from the prime minister, Boris Johnson, confirmed the new responsibilities. Sedwill described the arrangements as a “lack of change”, indicating that the joint working between departments has been in place for some time.
There have been frequent moves between the Cabinet Office and DExEU. The latter was originally spun out of the Cabinet Office’s Europe Unit, which had been led Olly Robbins, who became DExEU's first perm sec.
Robbins was then moved back to the Cabinet Office to focus on the EU exit negotiations, and around 50 staff moved from DExEU to the Cabinet Office.
However, when Johnson became prime minister the roles switched, with Gove put in charge of directing no-deal planning from the Cabinet Office and the Brexit department is told to focus on EU negotiations.
Johnson’s statement said Gove and Barclay would “be supported by officials in the Cabinet Office and the Department for Exiting the European Union equally across the Brexit agenda”.
He said: “Officials will retain their existing reporting lines with no transfers between departments. For the purpose of delivering Brexit they will operate in a single collective group under the Department for Exiting the European Union permanent secretary. As a result, it has not been necessary for any staff to have formally transferred between departments.”
Seperately, it has been announced today that Robbins, whom Frost replaced as the prime minister's Brexit sherpa, would become the first person to take up a fellowship set up in memory of Lord Jeremy Heywood, before leaving the civil service for the banking giant Goldman Sachs.