No final decision has been made on the matter, according to Whitehall sources, but there is a strong case, they say, for Alex Younger to extend his time rather than bring in someone new at a time of transition and upheaval.
Mr Younger, 55, is due to retire in November after five years in the post. His counterpart at MI5, Andrew Parker, agreed recently to stay on as head of the service until 2020, by which time he would have served for seven years. Jeremy Fleming, the chief at GCHQ was appointed in 2017 and is expected to see through a substantial length of time after withdrawal from the European Union. Sir Mark Sedwill will continue as the Prime Minister’s National Security Advisor despite being made Cabinet Secretary last October after the death of Sir Jeremy Heywood.
Although the intelligence and security agencies have not commented publicly about their view of Brexit, there is worry among senior officials about a no-deal scenario - crashing out of the EU without issues of intelligence sharing being settled.
Mr Younger, ‘C’ in intelligence parlance, stressed in a speech in December that it was “imperative” that Britain maintains and strengthens ties with European partners.
He repeated the message earlier this month, saying “for our part as SIS (Secret Intelligence Service) we will always work with our sister agencies to strengthen our indispensable security ties with Europe.”
Mr Younger’s predecessor at MI6, Sir John Sawers, has said that Brexit would make the UK more vulnerable to attacks like the novichok poisoning in Salisbury last March, which British authorities have blamed on Russia, something Moscow denies.
Leaving without a proper security arrangement will mean, he added “we will no longer be shaping the rules for data sharing and data privacy in Europe, which is increasingly vital to our security.
“We will not be automatic members of the information systems that European countries use for advanced notification of the movement of dangerous people. And we won’t be members of things like Europol and the intelligence centre.”
Security cooperation between Western allies will be one of the key issues at the annual security conference in Munich later this week, with European intelligence officials holding discussions on information sharing in various post-Brexit scenarios. Their American counterparts, who will also be present, are also keen to get clarity on the issue.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who MI6 officially report to, and Theresa May, have yet to confirm whether Mr Younger’s time at his post will be extended.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies