Olly Robbins, the civil servant who led Theresa May’s efforts to strike a Brexit deal with the EU and became a bogeyman to Eurosceptics, is to join Goldman Sachs, in the latest example of a high-profile public service appointment to the Wall Street giant.
Mr Robbins was Mrs May’s chief EU negotiator from 2017 until 2019 and was credited as the driving force behind the Leave deal struck by the prime minister in Brussels last year. He was granted a knighthood by Mrs May in her resignation honours on Tuesday.
But his high profile earned him the enmity of Conservative Brexiters, who accused him of being part of a Remainer elite intent on watering down their vision of a “pure” Brexit.
The 44-year-old became increasingly uncomfortable with his role as a public figure and told friends he was “relieved” to have retreated from the spotlight over the summer to spend time with his family.
His move to Goldman Sachs means he will transfer his detailed knowledge of the EU and Brexit to the US investment bank in a job which will be highly remunerated. He is not joining the elite ranks of Goldman partners, where salaries start at $950,000, but will earn a six-figure sum at the managing director level just below that.
His friends suspect that Mr Robbins will ultimately return to the civil service, armed with private-sector experience and considerable wealth.
“He’s a civil servant to his fingertips,” said one friend. “I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him come back in four or five years time.”
The move from Whitehall to investment banking — and then back into the civil service — has become a well-trodden path in recent years. Sir Jeremy Heywood became Britain’s top civil servant after a career that took him from the Treasury to Morgan Stanley.
Goldman has form in hiring civil servants from the highest echelons, including former European Commission president José Manuel Barroso, now chairman of London-based Goldman Sachs International.
Mr Robbins carried out Mrs May’s instructions to seal a deal with the EU that kept Britain close to its biggest trading partner, including paving the way for a common rule book to minimise trade barriers.
David Davis, Mrs May’s Eurosceptic Brexit secretary, drew up his own blueprint for a deal only to find that Mr Robbins had been working on a completely different plan, later adopted at Chequers in the summer of 2018.
“The person she heard from most was not me about Europe,” Mr Davis told the FT. “It was Olly.”
Mr Robbins announced his plans to step down from his EU negotiating role when Mrs May quit in July.
Boris Johnson, prime minister, had already made it clear he would replace Mr Robbins, whose role as chief EU negotiator has passed to David Frost, a former diplomat.
Before taking the role at Goldman, Mr Robbins will become the first “Heywood fellow” — named after former cabinet secretary Jeremy Heywood — set up by the Heywood Fellowship and Oxford university. He will take up the post immediately and is expected to remain there until the end of the year when he will join Goldman Sachs.
The fellowship aims to allow a senior civil servant “to explore issues relating to public service and policy”. Mr Johnson said he was “delighted” Mr Robbins would be the first permanent secretary to take up the fellowship.
Patrick O’Flynn, a former Ukip MEP, tweeted: “Olly Robbins taking very highly paid position with Goldman Sachs — one of the banks that funded the Remain campaign, I believe. “
Mr Robbins’ move was cleared by the Whitehall watchdog — the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments — subject to a standard two-year ban on lobbying as well as restrictions on engaging with government business.
The Daily Telegraph reported that Acoba concluded that the move to Goldman Sachs was “unrelated to Mr Robbins’ time in office and it is unlikely it would be perceived as a reward”.