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The case of Simon Case

The case of Simon Case


The country’s most senior civil servant has a habit of attracting the wrong kind of headlines. Could his time as Cabinet Secretary be drawing to a close?

Cabinet secretaries are the most powerful civil servants in Whitehall. They are also – usually – fairly anonymous figures, wielding power behind the scenes by ensuring policies shaped by the government of the day are implemented.

But Simon Case is different. From partygate to Boris Johnson’s secret credit facility, he has been in the headlines like no other cabinet secretary. And many in Westminster argue that he’s now on borrowed time.

Case was appointed as head of the civil service by Boris Johnson in September 2020. Sources say Johnson’s controversial chief of staff, Dominic Cummings, had earmarked Case for the role because he was “pliable”.  

He had worked in Whitehall before, but never run a department, and had also been private secretary to Prince William – a fact which those who know him say is central to understanding the “courtier” role he has adopted in Downing Street. 

He is also the youngest person to ever take up the role.

This apparent malleability is – perhaps – the root cause of many problems:

  • Case was appointed to investigate claims of multiple lockdown-breaching parties, but had to recuse himself after it emerged that parties had taken place in his office. The job passed to Sue Gray, another senior civil servant, whose report blamed failures of (unnamed) leadership. 
  • Johnson, who is awaiting the outcome of a parliamentary probe into whether he misled MPs, insists he was advised that guidance was followed at all times, but Case has denied giving such advice.  
  • Case was also implicated in the £800,000 loan guarantee offered by Johnson’s distant cousin Sam Blyth. Richard Sharp says he connected Blyth to Case and told Case he was recusing himself from further involvement. Case says he can’t remember this conversation.   

Now Case is embroiled in another row. This time it’s about the woman who took over that partygate investigation. 

According to The Times, Case has been “instrumental” in trying to block Sue Gray from taking a role as chief of staff for Labour leader Keir Starmer. There are also reports that Gray only quit the civil service after Case blocked her from being promoted. 

As Tortoise has reported, Case is now frozen out of key meetings by Rishi Sunak. But he remains in his role.  

If he isn’t jettisoned soon, Case could act as a further drag on the prime minister who vowed to put accountability, professionalism and integrity at the heart of his government.