Downed by ‘Darth Vader’, May’s Cabi­net hard­man

Daily Mail - - News - An­drew Pierce re­port­ing

On a wall in Sir Mark Sed­will’s of­fice in White­hall is a strik­ing black and white framed pho­to­graph of a lifeboat bat­tling stormy wa­ters.

On a shelf be­neath is a Christ­mas card from mem­bers of the Com­mons home affairs select com­mit­tee. It de­picts Sed­will, the softly-spo­ken Cabi­net Sec­re­tary, as Darth Vader, the ruth­less Jedi in Star Wars who is lured to the ‘Dark Side’.

The jux­ta­po­si­tion of the two is telling: the first re­veal­ing how our top man­darin sees his job – con­fronting the daily po­lit­i­cal tem­pest. The sec­ond is sym­bolic of how oth­ers see the man who has amassed more power than any other civil ser­vant in mod­ern po­lit­i­cal his­tory. Gavin Wil­liamson would no doubt count him­self with the lat­ter given that Sir Mark was the ar­chi­tect of his down­fall.

It was Sed­will – said to have been ‘in­can­des­cent’ with rage at the leak to a news­pa­per af­ter a na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil meet­ing to dis­cuss Bri­tain’s 5G net­work and the in­volve­ment of Chi­nese tech gi­ant Huawei – who over­saw the in­quiry that led to Wil­liamson’s hu­mil­i­a­tion. The event ce­mented Sir Mark’s po­si­tion as Mrs May’s steely ‘en­forcer’. He is clever, hard work­ing and steeped in the art of White­hall in­trigue – yet it all could have been so dif­fer­ent.

Brought up in Bourne, Lin­colnshire, Sed­will, now 54, at­tended St An­drews Uni­ver­sity and St Ed­mund Hall, Ox­ford, where he gained a masters in eco­nomics.

But writ­ing about his old col­lege, he con­fessed: ‘Af­ter grad­u­a­tion and some travel... it al­most prompted me to drop out and spend the rest of my life on a beach.’ In re­al­ity, he was al­ways on the fast-track to suc­cess.

He joined the diplo­matic ser­vice, serv­ing in Iraq as a Un weapons in­spec­tor. His ex­pe­ri­ence per­fectly placed him to be­come pri­vate sec­re­tary to Jack Straw, then for­eign sec­re­tary, be­tween 2000-2002, in the run-up to the sec­ond Iraq war. Eight years later and Sir Mark, who is mar­ried with a daugh­ter, was nato’s se­nior civil­ian rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Afghanista­n’s cap­i­tal Kabul.

In one of the stranger mo­ments of his ca­reer, he found him­self stranded in Pak­istan in 2004 af­ter a sud­den snow­fall. But it wasn’t all bad. Some 12,000 feet up the Hi­malayas an­other Bri­ton ap­peared. ‘Michael Palin had turned up to film... He didn’t want us in it, though – it didn’t feel very au­then­tic to fea­ture a Bri­tish diplo­mat,’ he said.

Se­nior roles in the For­eign Of­fice fol­lowed be­fore he joined the Home Of­fice as per­ma­nent sec­re­tary when Theresa May was home sec­re­tary. He has had her back ever since. When Sir Jeremy Hey­wood died last year,

there was no doubt who would re­place him as Cabi­net Sec­re­tary. In Novem­ber Sed­will was el­e­vated to this po­si­tion and head of the civil ser­vice – as well as na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser. He is the first civil ser­vant to hold all three roles at once and he wields the power ruth­lessly – as Gavin Wil­liamson dis­cov­ered.

Last year in a Chan­nel 4 doc­u­men­tary about the new US em­bassy, there is a re­veal­ing vi­gnette of the two men. Wil­liamson hes­i­tantly in­vites him­self round for cof­fee with the US am­bas­sador. Mo­ments later Sed­will tells the am­bas­sador in no-non­sense terms about plans for a state visit for Pres­i­dent Trump.

One ob­server said: ‘The power seemed vested in the diplo­mat not the politi­cian.’ This week brought us proof of that.

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