Kwasi Kwarteng is running as an external candidate as a top official in the Ministry of Finance

Kwasi Kwarteng, the Chancellor, is set to appoint an outside candidate to replace Sir Tom Scholar as the Treasury’s top official, in a move that will mark another symbolic break with Whitehall orthodoxy.

Antonia Romeo, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Justice, has emerged as Kwarteng’s choice to lead the Ministry of Finance, according to people familiar with his thinking.

Romeo emerged from interviews last week as Kwarteng’s “clear preference”, according to government figures, although a final decision will be made by Prime Minister Liz Truss and Cabinet Secretary Sir Simon Case.

Romeo would mark a break from the Treasury’s recent past. Her rivals for the top job have all had careers in the department whose “orthodoxy” was denounced by Truss during the Tory leadership campaign.

Kwarteng fired the popular and highly experienced Scholar on his first day as chancellor, a move some analysts said had contributed to investor jitters over the new government’s direction.

Scholar embodied traditional Treasury thinking about “sound money” and played an important role in some of the biggest government decisions in recent times, including during Covid-19 and the 2008 financial crisis.

His firing appalled officials and Kwarteng had to field several questions about his decision during a staff conference last month.

The chancellor said the department needed “fresh leadership”. It is mired in very low morale and unease about the direction of government policy.

Romeo is one of the highest profile mandarins in Whitehall and forged a strong relationship with Truss at the Department for International Trade, where they worked together on a number of trade deals.

Romeo joined the civil service in 2000 as a professional economist after an early career in the private sector at strategic consultancy Oliver Wyman, but she has never worked in the Treasury.

The four mandarins also vying for the job – James Bowler, Tamara Finkelstein, Jeremy Pocklington and Peter Schofield – had all previously held roles at the Treasury.

Romeo has been described by some officials as a “disrupter,” a label she has rejected. “Antonia has done some pretty difficult things, quite competently,” said a colleague.

However, some Treasury officials, disoriented by Scholar’s departure and the sharp reversal of the department’s long-time advocate of tight fiscal discipline, had hoped Kwarteng would pick an old hand.

“Sad days for the exchequer,” said a senior civil servant at One Horse Guards Road. A decision is expected this week; the emergence of Romeo as Kwarteng’s preferred choice was first reported in the Sunday Telegraph.

The chancellor is also expected shortly to announce a replacement for Charles Roxburgh, formerly the second permanent secretary to the Treasury. Both top civil service jobs in the department were vacant last week as the government battled market chaos following the “mini” budget.

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