A top Brexit Whitehall official has been moved out of the Department for Exiting the EU amid rumours of a rift with David Davis.
Oliver Robbins has left Brexit Secretary Davis’s department to an advisory role in the Cabinet Office but will ‘continue to lead the official-side UK team’ in negotiations, a Government spokesman said.
The move may be seen as an attempt by the Prime Minister to take a more prominent role in shaping the talks, before her crunch Brexit speech on Friday in Florence, Italy.
Philip Rycroft has been appointed as Mr Robbins’ replacement as permanent secretary at DExEU.
Mr Robbins has worked closely with Theresa May before during her stint as Home Secretary.
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable – speaking at his party’s annual conference in Bournemouth – mocked the move saying it was another sign of the ‘chaos’ in Government.
‘I’m glad someone has found an exit from Brexit,’ he said. ‘Unfortunately for the government it’s the civil servant who was meant to be leading it.
‘This is a sign of the chaos and division at the heart of this Government.
‘Conservative ministers are trying to drive through an extreme Brexit no matter the cost, ignoring expert advice from civil servants.
‘With Boris Johnson trying to grab the tiller of HMS Brexit, it’s little wonder the rest of the crew are jumping ship.’
Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer questioned the wisdom of moving key individuals at a critical time in the process, claiming it ‘adds a whole new dimension to Government’s chaotic approach to Brexit’.
Former head of the civil service Lord Kerslake said he was surprised by the move: ‘It seems an odd point to make this kind of change. I wonder how he can lead a process of negotiation and not also be leading the department responsible for that process.’
The crossbench peer told BBC Radio 4’s World At One: ‘I don’t know exactly what’s driving this move. It could be, as has been put out from Number 10, a simple case of the Prime Minister wanting more controlling influence over the process, it could be down to a clash of personalities.’