In Brief

Who is Simon Case: the ‘free-thinking’ Boris Johnson ally set to head the civil service

Ex-assistant to Prince William lined up to replace Mark Sedwill as cabinet secretary

Whitehall

A close ally of Boris Johnson who previously served as assistant to the Duke of Cambridge is in line to take up the role as the UK’s most senior civil servant.

According to the BBC, sources say Simon Case is to be announced as cabinet secretary at a cabinet meeting today.  

A Cabinet Office spokesperson confirmed that an announcement about the position would be made, but made no mention of Case, who was appointed permanent secretary at 10 Downing Street earlier this year. 

Who is Simon Case?

Case has been a civil servant since 2006, and served as “Prince William’s right-hand man” before being seconded to No. 10 earlier this year to aid the coronavirus response, the BBC reports.

Case will replace Mark Sedwill in the role of cabinet secretary, a position with responsibility for advising the prime minister on implementing policy and the general conduct of government.

Aged just 41, Case will be “the youngest cabinet secretary for decades”, but has “significant government and Downing Street experience”, says The Guardian.

He worked at No. 10 under David Cameron, before serving as head of strategy for spy agency GCHQ. After returning to Downing Street, Case stayed on as principal private secretary when Theresa May became PM, but left in 2017 to work on Irish border issues connected to Brexit.

“With his tailored tweed suits and Barbour jackets, Simon Case has always cut a dash in Whitehall,” the Financial Times reports. But he “was seen as too inexperienced to succeed Mark Sedwill as cabinet secretary and head of the civil service”, the newspaper adds. 

However, Johnson is understood to have told allies that he wanted Case to be “my Jeremy” - a reference to late former cabinet secretary Jeremy Heywood, who served both Cameron and May.

Fellow civil servants believe that like Heywood, who died in 2018, Case has “political guile”, reports the FT. But most think that Case is “not in the same league as Heywood, either in terms of experience, management skills or political nous”, according to the paper.  

So what are the implications of his appointment?

“The choice of a relative outsider close to Johnson will be linked by observers to a desire in No. 10 to radically reshape the civil service,” The Guardian reports. 

Or as The Times puts it, Johnson’s “free-thinking ally” is expected to “shake up” the status quo.

The FT adds that some officials suggest that Case is a “Yes man” who got the job because he will be “the creature of Dominic Cummings”, who has long touted plans to bring a “hard rain” on Whitehall.

However, ex-senior civil servant Gabriel Milland argues that Case is “a formidable operator”, with “supreme skill... as a fixer”. 

After returning to Downing Street, Case “earned a reputation as a spotter of unexploded landmines who was able to defuse them”, Milland writes in an article for The Times. “While a reputation for U-turns has been attached to this government, there would probably have been more without him.”

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