A grown-up analysis by Jill Rutter. An interesting thread about the history of the Home Office ending careers, the wider ramifications of Philip Rutnam’s recent resignation, and the longer term effect on the future of the UK Civil Service.


First published in March 2020.

Some quick thoughts on Philip Rutnam’s resignation from the Home Office.

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Philip does not do things lightly.

He will have thought long and hard about whether, and how, to leave. His statement is much more incendiary even than Ivan Rogers exit email which was (in theory) internal.

His decision to sue has precedents at lower levels and from agency heads. But not for permanent secretaries. Breakdowns of ministerial-civil service relations are usually done behind closed doors.

A peerage, a job at the Bank of England, or...

Clearly the Cabinet Office tried this in this case. But Rutnam’s decision to resign publically makes clear that he did not think the Cabinet Office would protect the department’s civil servants if he went quietly.

Lots of questions for Mark Sedwill (the Head of the Civil Service) to answer. Lots of civil servants will be looking for him for assurances – but he will be compromised by the implication he tried to hush this up?

There is another side to this too.

The Home Office has always been regarded as a ministerial graveyard. Many ministers will know that a Home Office posting could end their career.

Read this for example from Jacqui Smith talking to the Institute for Government.

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Interview of former Home Office Secretary Jacqui Smith, 2 June 2016. / Institute for Government

Amber Rudd complained recently about the lack of support she had from her permanent secretary over her Windrush resignation. Some senior officials were shuffled off – but Rutnam continued. We may now see the Williams Report sooner rather than later.

What will be interesting is to see who applies to take over. The job looks impossible: a difficult Home Secretary, an undeliverable agenda all grafted onto one of the most troubled department in government. Not sure internal applicants will be queuing up.

So, will Number 10 see this as an opportunity to bring in an external candidate? Maybe? And will willingness/ability to work with Priti Patel act as a quasi political litmus test?

Interesting whether more permanent secretaries are considering their position. Rutnam is the third permanent secretary to go this year after Jonathan Stephens retired, and Melanie Dawes moved to Ofcom. Will there be more? Or will there be a more explicit attempt to tear up the normal rules?

We already have the strange case of David Frost – not a minister, not a civil servant, yet running the UK-EU Brexit negotiation. That model clearly works for this government. They may want more of that.

Will the Cabinet Secretary hold the line? Does he want to? How this plays out is going to tell us a lot about both what is going on in government now – and how it will develop over the next few years...


Tweets posted on 29 February 2020 by @jillongovt.


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[This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article on 2 March 2020 with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected. | The author of the tweets writes in a personal capacity.]

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(Cover: Flickr/Number 10/Andrew Parsons. - Priti Patel. / Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)