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Olly Robbins, a civil service high flyer responsible for policy on immigration and free movement at the Home Office, is expected to be appointed to head a new Whitehall Brexit unit.

The unit, whose full membership will be announced within days, will initially also include senior civil servants from the Cabinet Office, Treasury, the Foreign Office and the department for business, innovation and skills, as officials begin the mammoth task of extricating Britain from the EU, write Sarah Neville, Henry Mance and Jim Pickard.

Expertise from other departments, such as the department for environment, food and rural affairs, will be brought in as negotiations with Europe continue. When the unit is at full strength it may employ up to 30 people.

Insiders say that the officials seconded to the new department will not only look at the different scenarios for a future relationship between Britain, Europe and the rest of the world. It will also support David Cameron in his European dealings for the remaining weeks of his premiership.

Oliver Letwin, one of the prime minister’s most trusted “fixers”, will play what the Cabinet Office has described as “a facilitative role hearing views from across the government and outside on issues that need to be considered by the new unit”.

Insiders say that he is likely to move on from those duties once a new prime minister has been appointed, however.

His closeness to Mr Cameron was highlighted on Tuesday in astringent comments to the Treasury select committee by Lord Turnbull, former head of the civil service.

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