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Civil service: Government’s top lawyer to stand down

Jonathan Jones

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HM Government

The government’s most senior lawyer has become the sixth leading civil servant to stand down this year.

Jonathan Jones, permanent secretary to the Government Legal Department, has resigned and will leave the role in April at the end of his five year term.

Permanent secretaries lead government departments and are among the most senior civil servants.

A spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office confirmed Sir Jonathan had resigned but did not comment further.

Sir Jonathan, who is a QC, was knighted in December 2019 for his legal services to the government. The honour recognised his work on constitutional issues and the EU Withdrawal Agreement.

Resignation

Reporting the news of Sir Jonathan’s resignation, the Financial Times attributed the move to “suggestions that Boris Johnson is trying to row back on parts of last year’s Brexit deal relating to Northern Ireland”.

It added that people “close to Sir Jonathan said he was ‘very unhappy’ about the decision to overwrite parts of the Northern Ireland protocol, part of the 2019 withdrawal agreement, with new powers in the UK internal market bill.”

The government has denied that its plans for new post-Brexit customs arrangements would “tear up” the deal struck between the UK and EU last year.

In response to Sir Jonathan’s resignation, the shadow attorney general, Lord Falconer, said he was “an impressive lawyer and a loyal civil servant”.

“If he can’t stay in public service, there must be something very rotten about this government. This resignation indicates that senior government lawyers think that the government is about to break the law.”

Sir Jonathan is the latest senior figure in government to leave office.

At the beginning of September, Simon Case was appointed as cabinet secretary and head of the civil service, after his predecessor Sir Mark Sedwill stood down.

His exit follows reports of tensions between him and senior members of Boris Johnson’s team.

Separately, the government has run into opposition from the civil service union to its plan to get many more officials back to their Whitehall offices.

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