DExEU perm sec Oliver Robbins on building the Brexit department and his 2017 priorities

Written by Civil Service World on 22 December 2016 in Interview
Interview

With the end of 2016 fast approaching, we asked the UK's top officials to look back at the year, outline their goals for 2017 – and shed some light on their festive favourites. Oliver Robbins, permanent secretary of the Department for Exiting the European Union, takes part in our annual perm secs round-up...

What was your highlight of 2016?
2016 has been an interesting year to say the least. When I have had a chance to reflect, I am impressed by the dedication of the people I have worked with since the referendum in both London and Brussels. Establishing a department in such a short amount of time is no small task. But the hard work and enthusiasm of colleagues who have come from all across government to take on this huge challenge together means we have been able to do it. As the permanent secretary of DExEU, I am immensely proud of everyone who works here.

What has been the most significant change in your department this year?
Put simply, there was no department at this point last year. DExEU is now five months young and still growing. What began with the 40 or so members of the European and Global Issues Secretariat in the Cabinet Office and the diplomats at UKRep in Brussels is now a fully-fledged department with over 300 people. We have successfully attracted, and continue to attract, some of the best and brightest civil servants – with an aim to be at full capacity in early 2017.

What will be the biggest challenge of 2017 – and how are you preparing to meet it?
When the prime minister triggers Article 50, the focus of my department will change as we move into formal negotiations with the EU. Much of the work we are doing at the moment is to make sure we are prepared. The support DExEU has already had from across Whitehall and Brussels has been unprecedented and we wouldn’t have been able to grow so quickly and successfully without it. 2016 has given us plenty of practice at coping with change and I am confident in our ability to deal with what the year ahead will bring. 

More: Perm secs round-up 2016 – Britain's top civil servants review the year and look ahead to 2017

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