The PM insisted the Cabinet Secretary had ‘seen the government through all sorts’ since taking on the role two years ago – and hinted that he could contribute in future.
But in an interview with Times Radio he dismissed ‘briefing’ coming from aides and the heart of Whitehall in recent weeks about the future of the country’s most senior civil servant.
The comments came amid claims Mr Johnson is looking for a Brexiteer to succeed Sir Mark, who will be handed a peerage and a bumper civil service pay-off when he stands down later this year.
Mr Johnson tried to play down the idea this morning, telling reporters during a visit to a construction site that the great thing about the civil service was that politicians never knew their personal political views.
Sir Mark, 55, last night confirmed he will step down as both Cabinet Secretary and national security adviser in September, after more than 30 years in Government service. In an email to colleagues this morning he urged them to uphold the civil service values of ‘honesty, integrity, impartiality, compassion’, saying he was ‘proud’ of what had been achieved.
Sir Mark Sedwill (pictured in Westminster today) has confirmed he will step down as both Cabinet Secretary and national security adviser in September, after more than 30 years in Government service
Mr Johnson dodged questions about whether Sir Mark’s departure was linked to a power struggle with Dominic Cummings (pictured leaving his London home today)
Mr Johnson (pictured today) and Sir Mark finalised his departure at a private lunch on June 2, and agreed to try to paint the departure as amicable
No10 dismisses criticism over ‘US-style’ appointment of new national security chief
Downing Street has defended the appointment of the UK’s chief EU negotiator David Frost as the next national security adviser (NSA).
The Prime Minister has faced criticism for appointing a political special adviser to a position previously filled by permanent civil servants.
However the PM’s official spokesman said that such appointments were not unusual in other countries.
‘The appointment of the NSA is always a decision for the Prime Minister,’ the spokesman said.
‘It is not unusual in other countries for ambassadors to serve as national security advisers and ambassadors can be political appointees. David Frost has the status of an ambassador.
‘The First Civil Service Commissioner has agreed the appointment. That is consistent with the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act.’
Sir Mark’s departure comes just days after Mr Cummings is reported to have told Government advisers ‘a hard rain is coming’ to Whitehall – an apparent reference to the radioactive showers that follow a nuclear blast.
He is said to have advised Mr Johnson to sack the former diplomat at the end of last month following clashes over the scale and timing of the planned overhaul.
But Mr Johnson and Sir Mark finalised his departure at a private lunch on June 2, and agreed to try to paint the departure as amicable.
Amid a backlash from unions and former mandarins, David Frost, the PM’s EU negotiator, is being installed as the new national security adviser.
In his interview this morning, Mr Johnson said: ‘Sir Mark has given incredible service to this country. He came in at a very difficult time.
‘He has seen the Government through all sorts of very tough stuff – changes in the premiership, an election, Brexit, dealing with the worst bits of the Covid crisis. He has got a lot more to offer and I am sure he will.’
He played down suggestions that Sir Mark had been the subject of a series of negative briefings in the media.
‘I try not to read too much of the negative briefing. There is an awful lot of stuff that comes out in the papers to which I wouldn’t automatically attach the utmost credence,’ he said.
‘People brief all kinds of things into the newspapers. All I can tell you is Mark is an outstanding servant to this country and will continue to be so.’
Speaking to broadcasters separately on his visit in west London this morning, Mr Johnson rejected the idea that he wants a Brexiteer.
‘I think the great thing about the civil service is that nobody should know, least of all me,’ he said.
‘I think we have a wonderful civil service. They are impartial, they are the best in the world, and who knows what his or her views will be.’
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson insisted it was not unusual for a special adviser such as Mr Frost to be appointed national security adviser.
‘That’s what you see in the United States, that’s what you see in many other countries,’ he said.
Boris Johnson insisted the Cabinet Secretary (pictured together last June with Dominic Cummings right) had ‘seen the government through all sorts’ since taking on the role two years ago – and hinted that he could contribute in future
‘This is a man who has impeccable public service, very much a background that similar people who have held this role in the past before have come from having worked in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for an awful long time, so this isn’t an unusual appointment.’
Ex-cabinet secretary Lord O’Donnell said: ‘I’m worried about the appointment of David Frost as national security adviser because I’m not quite sure how putting a special adviser in that role works.’ He told BBC Radio 4’s Today that political appointees were ‘more likely to be yes-men’ rather than ‘speaking truth to power’.
Bob Kerslake, a former head of the Civil Service who went on to advise Labour under Jeremy Corbyn, accused Number 10 ‘or those around it’ of working to ‘undermine’ the ex-diplomat.
Speaking to the Guardian, Lord Kerslake said: ‘I fear from some of the press briefing that had obviously gone on that the Civil Service is being made the fall guy for mistakes made in the handling of the pandemic.’
Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA, which represents public officials, said: ‘No 10, or those around it, has sought to undermine Sir Mark and the leadership of the civil service, with a series of anonymous briefings against him over many months.’ He blasted the tactics as ‘corrosive and cowardly’ and said the Government would be ‘weaker as a result’ of the departure.