Britain’s most senior civil servant is stepping back from his job for several weeks to take medical leave, the Cabinet Office has confirmed.
Cabinet secretary Simon Case is set to be absent at a critical moment for Rishi Sunak’s government, which is grappling with wars in Ukraine and the Middle East and a slew of challenges at home.
The 44-year-old was appointed to the top civil service job by Boris Johnson September 2020, replacing Sir Mark Sedwill, who quit after being the subject of months of negative briefings to newspapers.
Mr Case, whose time in the job has seen him involved in a series of controversies, is expected to be absent for “a few weeks”.
The Cabinet Office confirmed Mr Case’s absence, which comes just days after indiscreet WhatsApp messages during the pandemic were released by the UK Covid-19 Inquiry.
And a Downing Street source said: “The prime minister looks forward to him returning and wishes Simon all the best in the meantime.”
Politico, which first reported his absence, said Rishi Sunak would brief the Cabinet about the situation, with elements of Mr Case’s role being filled by a number of top officials while he is off, rather than anyone standing in as Cabinet Secretary.
A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “The Cabinet Secretary is taking a short period of leave because of a private medical matter and is due to return to work in a few weeks.”
Mr Case had been expected to give evidence to the Covid inquiry in the coming weeks, after WhatsApp messages disclosed some of his private thoughts about Boris Johnson’s government during the pandemic.
The head of the civil service said the government was looking like a “terrible, tragic joke”, while Mr Johnson’s wife Carrie was “the real person in charge”.
Mr Case, who had previously served as permanent secretary in Number 10, wrote that he was “not sure I can cope” amid apparent frustration at how the pandemic was being handled in Government.
In a stunning exchange, by the official Covid inquiry, Mr Case wrote: “I was always told that Dom [Dominic Cummings] was the secret PM. How wrong they are. I look forward to telling select cttee tomorrow – ‘oh, f*** no, don’t worry about Dom, the real person in charge is Carrie’.”
The Cabinet Secretary was also embroiled in the partygate row and had to step back from the investigation into boozy lockdown-breaking events in Downing Street, which ultimately fell to Sue Gray to lead, because of his own involvement.
He was pictured at the Cabinet Room birthday party for which Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak were fined.
Mr Case’s central role during the Johnson administration also saw him drawn into the rows surrounding Richard Sharp’s appointment as BBC chairman.
He also admitted he had an “informal conversation” about potential roles at a royal charity for Mrs Johnson after a prompt from No 10.