Over the past year of turbulence in Downing Street, one man has quietly sat through all of the chaos - from changing prime ministers, to Partygate, to the crash of the financial markets.
Simon Case, the man in question, has served as Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service since September 2020, and so has worked for Boris Johnson, Liz Truss, and now, Rishi Sunak. His role places him as the Prime Minister’s chief advisor, giving him a crucial insight into what is going on inside government.
He also sits beside the Prime Minister at every Cabinet meeting, meaning he’s present when new ministers take their place, when controversies are discussed, and when key decisions are made - such as Truss’ fateful financial choices last September.
But despite his sustained presence over the past few years, Case has emerged from scandal after scandal relatively unscathed. One of the most controversial examples of this was when the UK’s top civil servant did not receive a fine for Partygate.
Although he was pictured at parties, and his role as Head of the Civil Service meant he had a certain control over the gatherings, Case appeared to avoid all sanctions and reprimands. Many thought after Partygate emerged Case would resign as a sign of apology, but he did not - and several were unhappy, particularly the dozens of junior civil servants who were fired for their involvement.
However, Case’s string of close escapes may be drawing to an end - with the civil servant starting to attract more attention, particularly after the recent emergence of Dominic Raab bullying allegations, Nadhim Zahawi’s tax scandal, and the arrangement of an £800,000 credit facility to Boris Johnson.
So while his supporters insist he has the full support of Prime Minister Sunak, and characterise him as a highly capable civil servant, his critics view him as someone at the heart of a dysfunctional regime, who has overseen years of serious misconduct. With that being said, here’s everything you need to know about Simon Case, his career, and his future in Downing Street.
Who is Simon Case?
Case, aged 44, first joined the Civil Service in 2006 and has held a series of roles since then. Currently, he is the Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service - and has served in these positions since September 2020.
His role puts him in the centre of government, but he is prevented from ever publicly commenting on policies and decisions due to civil service impartiality. He is tasked with ensuring policy is put into action, and is a powerful - but supposedly rather invisible - figure. Case’s previous role in government, between May and September 2020, was Permanent Secretary to Prime Minister Johnson.
Prior to this, Case spent nearly two years working as the private secretary to Prince William. The job involved maintaining communication between the various royal palaces, as well as being chief of staff to the household and advising the future king. Sources suggest Case has a good relationship with the Prince of Wales.
Case was around for some high-profile events, such as Prince Harry and Meghan’s departure from the Royal Family. But Prince Harry seems to be less impressed with how his brother’s former secretary dealt with this, writing in his best-selling memoir Spare, in what is thought to be a reference to Case: “The Fly had spent much of his career adjacent to and, indeed drawn to, s***. The offal of government and media and wormy entrails, he loved it, grew fat on it, rubbed his hands in glee over it, though he pretended otherwise.”
Before his stint with Buckingham Palace, Case had a key role in post-Brexit negotiations - acting as the lead civil servant for finding a solution to the Irish border issue. He was also involved in the delivery of the 2012 Summer Olympics, and has worked within the Ministry of Defence, Northern Ireland Office, and Cabinet Office.
What controversies has he been involved with?
The first real public criticism of Case came during the notorious row over Boris Johnson’s ‘gold’ wallpaper. Case was slammed for intervening in the situation when news broke that he would be investigating the flat refurbishment. Some accused him of trying to cover up the scandal and “smooth over the cracks”, while others, particularly members of the Labour Party, questioned why such a senior civil servant would take on a job like this in the midst of a pandemic.
Of course what came next was the most controversial scandal of them all - Partygate. After news broke of more than a dozen parties being held at Downing Street during the pandemic, Case was appointed by Johnson to lead an investigation. This was in December 2021.
However, soon after, it emerged that gatherings had been held in his office as well - forcing Case to recuse himself from the investigation. One of the parties Case attended was a drinks event in mid-December 2020, where about 15 to 20 staff members were present. At the time, the public was banned from mixing with other households - and Christmas was ‘cancelled’.
He did not receive a fine from police for his attendance, with the story being that the event had been a quiz which turned into a drinking event - and that Case had stopped by and had a beer before heading home. He also never received a fine for attending an impromptu birthday celebration for the then-Prime Minister at Number 10, which both Johnson and Sunak subsequently received fines for.
Case’s escape from punishment baffled many of his fellow civil servants - as well as the public. It was also quite a statement that he chose not to resign, even after all of these Downing Street parties happened while he was Head of the Civil Service.
When Liz Truss became Prime Minister, she quickly dismissed Tom Scholar, the Treasury’s well-respected Permanent Secretary. Case received criticism for allowing this to happen, since a key part of his role is advising the PM on such decisions. Scholar’s dismissal has subsequently been linked by some to the allowing of Truss’ and Kwasi Kwarteng’s now notoriously disastrous mini budget, which sparked chaos in the financial markets, thereby associating Case with the fallout.
Case is also involved in one of the most recent Conservative Party scandals - namely, Nadhim Zahawi’s tax affairs. According to Downing Street, both Sunak and his predecessor Truss were not made aware of any ‘flags’ surrounding the minister’s taxes. Sunak insisted “no issues were raised” when he appointed Zahawi to Cabinet, and that the “usual process” was followed.
If this is true, it raises the question of why Case, the Cabinet Secretary, did not raise questions about Zahawi, given that he has overall responsibility for advising the Prime Minister on ethical issues. So what is his responsibility here? Of course, the same questions can also be applied to other ministers facing scandals - such as Dominic Raab, who is alleged to have bullied several colleagues.
A final scandal where Case’s name pops up is actually one which took place first - but only emerged recently. In 2020, former banker Richard Sharp was involved in securing a loan of up to £800,000 for then-PM Johnson, before Sharp was then named Chairman of the BBC. Reports suggest Case was involved in facilitating this loan - but his role remains relatively mysterious.
What have others said about Case?
Jacob Rees-Mogg previously said he thought Case was “a good and efficient civil servant, who helped a democratically elected government deliver its promises in the proper way”. Similarly, another recent cabinet minister described him as a “great man” who “makes things happen” and “finds his way through tricky problems”.
Others however are not so complimentary. One civil servant, who has worked in various government departments, told Politico: “I hate that man — he’s a worm.” A senior Tory MP told the same paper Case was a “snake”, who would “never” have been the one to “tell Boris how it is.”
Meanwhile, a former Cabinet Secretary said of Case’s performance in the role: “One of the tasks of the Cabinet Secretary is to oversee the conduct of officials in the Cabinet Office and in No. 10, and that was a woeful failure. I can’t think of anything like it in terms of failures of conduct.” The civil servant also appears to be unpopular with non-political staffers in Whitehall, one of whom described him as “spineless”.
What does his future look like?
Given all of these scandals, the question that remains is how long Case can keep getting away unscathed. There’s more attention on him nowadays, but if he keeps his head down, there’s a chance that more scandals will come about and take the heat off him. But as we’ve seen, trouble seems to find Case.
Crucial to his survival then will be maintaining the confidence of Prime Minister Sunak, something Case seemed to do so successfully with Johnson. But with Sunak apparently intent on enforcing “accountability”, if pressure from the public or other politicians becomes too much, Case could be in danger sooner than he thought.