Olly Robbins

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Sir Olly Robbins

Olly Robbins.jpg
Prime Minister's Europe Adviser
In office
18 September 2017 – 24 July 2019
Prime MinisterTheresa May
Preceded byOliver Letwin (2016)
Succeeded byDavid Frost
In office
24 June 2016 – 11 July 2016
Serving with Oliver Letwin
Prime MinisterDavid Cameron
Preceded byTom Scholar
Succeeded byOliver Letwin
Chief Negotiator for
Exiting the European Union
In office
18 September 2017 – 24 July 2019
Prime MinisterTheresa May
Preceded byDavid Davis[1][2]
Succeeded byDavid Frost
Second Permanent Secretary
for the Home Office
In office
September 2015 – June 2016
Prime MinisterDavid Cameron
Home SecretaryTheresa May
Succeeded byPatsy Wilkinson
Director-General of the Civil Service
In office
January 2014 – September 2015
Prime MinisterDavid Cameron
Preceded byKatherine Kerswell
Succeeded bySimon Claydon
Principal Private Secretary to the
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
In office
27 June 2006 – 11 September 2007
Prime MinisterTony Blair
Gordon Brown
Preceded byIvan Rogers
Succeeded byTom Scholar
Permanent Secretary for the
Department for Exiting the European Union
In office
July 2016 – 18 September 2017
Prime MinisterTheresa May
Sec. of StateDavid Davis
Preceded byOffice established
Succeeded byPhilip Rycroft
Personal details
Born (1975-04-20) 20 April 1975 (age 44)
Lambeth, London, England
Sherry Birkbeck (m. 2005)
EducationColfe's School
Alma materHertford College, Oxford
OccupationCivil servant

Sir Oliver Robbins KCMG CB (born 20 April 1975) is a senior British civil servant who served as the Prime Minister's Europe Adviser and Chief Negotiator for Exiting the European Union from 2017 to 2019.[3][4][5] He previously served as the Permanent Secretary at the Department for Exiting the European Union from July 2016 to September 2017,[6][7] and as the Prime Minister's Advisor on Europe and Global Issues from June 2016 to July 2016.[8]

Early life and education[edit]

Robbins was born on 20 April 1975 in Lambeth to Derek and Diana Robbins.[6][9] His father Derek Robbins is Emeritus Professor of international social theory at the University of East London, where he has taught since it was founded as North-East London Polytechnic in 1970, devoting his career to French post-structuralist social theory and the work of Pierre Bourdieu.[10][11] His mother was a civil servant, who later left her job to raise her children.[12] He was educated at Colfe's School, an independent school in Lee, London.[13] He studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) at Hertford College, Oxford.[6] He graduated from the University of Oxford with a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in 1996.[13] At Oxford, Robbins was president of the Oxford Reform Club, a group promoting a federal European Union.[14] He was nicknamed "Sir Humphrey" after the Yes Minister permanent secretary character Sir Humphrey Appleby.[14]


Robbins joined HM Treasury in 1996 on graduation, serving as Head of Corporate and Private Finance from 2003 to 2006, and then briefly as Head of Defence, Diplomacy and Intelligence finance.

Robbins was appointed as Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street in 2006, replacing Ivan Rogers for the last part of Tony Blair's administration and the start of Gordon Brown's. When Brown re-set the Prime Minister's Office organisation to be more like its pre-1997 form, Robbins briefly served as Director of the Office before leaving Number 10 per se in 2007 to become the Director of Intelligence and Security – later, Director of Intelligence, Security and Resilience – in the Cabinet Office.

In 2010, David Cameron's incoming administration reorganised the UK's national security apparatus, and Robbins' post was reformulated as the Deputy National Security Advisor responsible for Intelligence, Security and Resilience. In this role, Robbins negotiated with The Guardian on how to curtail its reporting of material leaked by Edward Snowden relating to the operations of the CIA and GCHQ.[15] The Guardian described Robbins as "steely but punctiliously polite".[15]

In January 2014, Robbins was appointed Director-General, Civil Service at the Cabinet Office.[16] In September 2015, Robbins moved to the Home Office as Second Permanent Secretary alongside Mark Sedwill.[17][18] He had responsibility for immigration and free movement, as well as the borders, immigration and citizenship system.[19] During this role, he was ordered to leave a meeting of the Home Affairs Select Committee after he was deemed to have given "unsatisfactory" answers about the budget for Border Force and to instead provide answers outside the hearing later the same day, which he did not do.[20][19]

In July 2016, Robbins was appointed the head of the European and Global Issues Secretariat, advising the Prime Minister on the EU and to oversee Britain's exit from the European Union.[21] Shortly thereafter, the secretariat was moved out of the Cabinet Office to become a full department, the Department for Exiting the European Union, of which he became the permanent secretary.[22] In September 2017, Robbins moved from the Brexit department to become Prime Minister Theresa May's personal Brexit advisor.[3] His closeness to May led to descriptions of him as her consigliere, though he has been praised by allies of the four Prime Ministers he served.[15][23]

Robbins's role in negotiating a deal for the UK's withdrawal from the European Union led to some Conservative MPs blaming him for an anti-Brexit "establishment plot", criticising him as "secretive" and comparing him to Grigori Rasputin.[24][25] Acting Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill sent a letter to The Times defending Robbins, highlighting that civil servants implement the decisions of elected governments.[26] Sedwill pointed to the example of HMRC Permanent Secretary Jon Thompson receiving death threats after giving evidence to MPs about the costs of a potential post-Brexit customs plan.[27] Responding to Sedwill's letter, Andrew Adonis said that civil servants should "start getting used to criticism", as they had the option to work on other policies.[28] A group of former military and intelligence officials associated with pro-Brexit pressure group Veterans for Britain including the former head of the Secret Intelligence Service Richard Dearlove said Robbins had "serious questions of improper conduct to answer" over defence and security co-operation between the UK and the EU after Brexit.[28] Former Department for Work and Pensions Permanent Secretary Leigh Lewis backed up Sedwill's letter, noting the "occupational hazard for senior civil servants to be held responsible for the political decisions of ministers", of which he considered the attacks on Robbins to be a blatant example in a particularly toxic environment.[29]

In June 2019 it was reported that Robbins intended to resign when Theresa May left office.[30] He took up the Heywood Fellowship at the Blavatnik School of Government in September 2019, after which he will join Goldman Sachs as a managing director in the bank's investment banking division.[31]

Personal life[edit]

Robbins is married and has three children.[15] He has been described as "one of the tallest men in the British establishment".[32] He is a member of the National Liberal Club.[6]


In the 2015 Queen's Birthday Honours, Robbins was appointed a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) for public service.[33] He was made a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George in the 2019 Prime Minister's Resignation Honours.[34]


  1. ^ Rahim, Zamira (30 June 2019). "Olly Robbins: UK's lead Brexit negotiator 'set to quit role this summer'". The Independent.
  2. ^ Wright, Oliver (28 December 2017). "David Davis sidelined as Brussels tries to undermine him". The Times.
  3. ^ a b "Brexit official Robbins moves to No 10". BBC News. 18 September 2017. Retrieved 2 December 2017.
  4. ^ Hewitt, Daniel (12 February 2019). "Who is Olly Robbins, possibly the most powerful man in Westminster you've never heard of?". ITV News. Retrieved 15 March 2019.
  5. ^ Kennedy, Rachel (13 February 2019). "Brexit blab: Chief negotiator overheard in bar suggesting 'long delay' to Article 50". Euronews. Retrieved 15 March 2019.
  6. ^ a b c d 'ROBBINS, Oliver', Who's Who 2012, A & C Black, 2012; online edn, Oxford University Press, Dec 2011 ; online edn, Nov 2011 accessed 18 April 2012
  7. ^ "Permanent Secretary appointed to lead the new EU unit in Cabinet Office". GOV.UK. 29 June 2016. Retrieved 2 December 2017.
  8. ^ "Oliver Robbins - GOV.UK". www.gov.uk. Retrieved 25 May 2019.
  9. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 22 July 2018.
  10. ^ Barker, Alex; Parker, George (10 October 2018). "Meet Britain's real Brexit broker". FT.com.
  11. ^ "Professor Derek Michael Robbins - Emeritus Professor". University of East London.
  12. ^ Dudman, Jane (21 September 2015). Will the UK civil service ever reflect the diverse nation it serves?. The Guardian. Retrieved 2018-07-09.
  13. ^ a b "Oliver Robbins". LinkedIn. Retrieved 3 July 2016.
  14. ^ a b Shipman, Gabriel Pogrund and Tim (11 February 2018). "Oliver Robbins, May's Brexit chief, was 'student Sir Humphrey' bent on federal Europe". The Sunday Times. ISSN 0956-1382. Retrieved 26 August 2018.
  15. ^ a b c d Perkins, Anne (27 July 2018). "Olly Robbins: steely operator fighting on the Brexit frontline". the Guardian. Retrieved 26 August 2018.
  16. ^ "Robbins replaces Kerswell as head of civil service reform | Civil Service World". www.civilserviceworld.com. Retrieved 9 October 2016.
  17. ^ "Duncan Lewis: Home Office appoints Second Permanent Secretary to oversee borders and immigration". www.duncanlewis.co.uk. Retrieved 9 October 2016.
  18. ^ "UK's DG for civil service reform moves to Home Office". Global Government Forum. 16 September 2015. Retrieved 9 October 2016.
  19. ^ a b Syal, Rajeev (13 April 2016). "Civil servant thrown out of Commons committee is ordered to return". the Guardian. Retrieved 26 August 2018.
  20. ^ "Vaz throws civil servant out of committee". BBC News. 12 April 2016. Retrieved 26 August 2018.
  21. ^ "Permanent Secretary appointed to lead the new EU unit in Cabinet Office". gov.uk. Cabinet Office and Prime Minister's Office, 10 Downing Street. 29 June 2016. Retrieved 3 July 2016.
  22. ^ Elgot, Jessica (29 June 2016). "Immigration official takes charge of UK Brexit unit". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 October 2016.
  23. ^ Watt, Nicholas (2018). "Who is Olly Robbins and why is he so important?". BBC News. Retrieved 26 August 2018.
  24. ^ PoliticsHome.com (16 October 2018). "Civil service chief slams 'sniping' against Brexit negotiator Olly Robbins". PoliticsHome.com. Retrieved 19 October 2018.
  25. ^ Sam Coates, Oliver Wright, Bruno Waterfield (13 October 2018). "PM's 'Rasputin' Oliver Robbins charms Brussels and splits Tories". The Times. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 19 October 2018.
  26. ^ "Brexiteers accused of 'sniping' at PM's Europe adviser". The Independent. Retrieved 19 October 2018.
  27. ^ Policy Editor, Oliver Wright (16 October 2018). "'Sniping' Tories are told to stop attacks on PM's Brexit negotiator". The Times. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 19 October 2018.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  28. ^ a b Wright, Oliver (17 October 2018). "May's negotiator Olly Robbins faces renewed attack". The Times. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 19 October 2018.
  29. ^ "Sir Leigh Lewis: Olly Robbins deserves admiration not abuse for his Brexit work | Civil Service World". www.civilserviceworld.com. Retrieved 19 October 2018.
  30. ^ "Olly Robbins, Theresa May's chief Brexit negotiator, to quit role before new PM takes power". telegraph.co.uk. 29 June 2019.
  31. ^ "Theresa May's Brexit negotiator Olly Robbins set to join Goldman Sachs". CityAM. 9 September 2019. Retrieved 10 September 2019.
  32. ^ Watt, Nicholas (2018). "Who is Olly Robbins and why is he so important?". BBC News. Retrieved 26 August 2018.
  33. ^ "No. 61256". The London Gazette (Supplement). 13 June 2015. p. B3.
  34. ^ "Staffers (and cricketers) named in May's resignation honours". CityAM. 9 September 2019. Retrieved 10 September 2019.

External links[edit]

Government offices
Preceded by
Ivan Rogers
Principal Private Secretary
to the Prime Minister

Succeeded by
Tom Scholar
Preceded by
Robert Hannigan
Director of Intelligence Security and Resilience
for the Cabinet Office

Office abolished
New title Deputy National Security Advisor
for the Cabinet Office

Succeeded by
Paddy McGuinness
Preceded by
Katherine Kerswell
Director-General of the Civil Service
Succeeded by
Simon Claydon
New title Deputy Permanent Secretary
for the Home Office

Succeeded by
Patsy Wilkinson
Preceded by
Tom Scholar
as Prime Minister's Adviser
for Europe and Global Issues
Permanent Secretary for the
Department for Exiting the European Union

Succeeded by
Philip Rycroft