Sir Jeremy Heywood retires as cabinet secretary

Sir Mark Sedwill named as Heywood’s replacement, taking on the roles of cabinet secretary and head of the civil service


By Richard Johnstone

24 Oct 2018

Sir Jeremy Heywood photographed for CSW by Louise Haywood-Schiefer

Sir Jeremy Heywood has announced he is to step down as cabinet secretary and head of the civil service with immediate effect to focus on his recovery from cancer.

Heywood has been on a leave of absence since June to receive treatment for the disease, but it was today announced that he would step down on medical advice, to be replaced by Sir Mark Sedwill as both cabinet secretary and head of the civil service.

Sedwill has been acting cabinet secretary in Heywood’s absence, but civil service issues have been handled by John Manzoni, as chief executive of the civil service. Number 10 Downing Street confirmed to CSW that Sedwill has now been appointed to both roles. Sedwill will also continue to serve as the prime minister’s national security adviser, essentially re-combining roles that were split in May 2010 as part of the reforms that also saw the creation of the National Security Council.


Heywood has served as cabinet secretary since 2012 after Sir Gus O’Donnell’s retirement, and head of the civil service since 2014, when the posts were recombined following the retirement of Sir Bob Kerslake.

In a personal statement published alongside the announcement, Heywood said he was “particularly proud of the work Whitehall has done in seeking to bring clarity, shape and practical options to the table for ministers to discuss” since the vote to leave the European Union, and criticised what he called “a number of recent ‘noises off’ from anonymous commentators” about the civil service’s work on Brexit.

Heywood said that he had joined the civil service 35 years ago “as an enthusiastic young economist in the Health and Safety Executive, full of ideas and keen to make change happen”.

He added: “Throughout my career, I have seen it as my responsibility to look for fresh angles, to challenge lazy thinking and to work with colleagues to find solutions rather than simply identifying problems and obstacles that everyone can admire.” This had included encouraged the civil service to “be more open, more diverse, more inclusive in its culture and more professional in all that it does”, he said, adding: “Despite a number of recent ‘noises off’ from anonymous commentators, I believe that the service is in robust health, well-equipped to provide the support the country needs over the coming months and years”.

Heywood paid tribute to Sedwill for “holding the fort so admirably over the summer months as acting cabinet secretary” and to permanent secretaries across government  for working as a team.

“On a personal level I have very much appreciated the support of the prime minister over the last few months and all the messages of goodwill received from so many current and former colleagues, friends and acquaintances,” he said.

“Above all, I would like to thank all the hard-working civil servants across the UK who keep this country moving forward.”

Paying tribute to Heywood, prime minister Theresa May said he had given exemplary service to the public in his civil service career. “He has worked constantly to improve our country’s future and to deliver for the public, serving prime ministers and ministers of all parties with distinction in the finest traditions of the civil service,” she said.

“I am personally grateful to him for the support he has given me as Prime Minister. He has made an enormous contribution to public life in our country and will be sorely missed.”

Sedwill added that all in public service would “want to thank Jeremy for his tireless and outstanding service to our nation, and for the values he exemplifies”. 

“He has had a profound, positive and lasting impact and will be greatly missed.”

After starting his career in the HSE in 1983, Heywood moved to the Treasury, and became the principal private secretary to then-chancellor Norman Lamont, including the fallout from UK’s exit from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, when the UK was forced to withdraw the pound sterling from the currency harmonisation system after it was unable to keep the pound above its agreed lower limit despite raising interest rates to 15%.

He remained in this role for chancellors Kenneth Clarke and Gordon Brown before moving to be economic and domestic policy secretary to prime minister Tony Blair and then principal private secretary to Blair in 1999.

He left the civil service in 2003 to become a managing director at banking firm Morgan Stanley before returning to work in Number 10 when Brown become prime minister in 2007, where he held a series of senior roles before being named cab sec following O’Donnell’s retirement.

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