In Depth

Reaction: Gavin Williamson sacked by ‘kangaroo court’

Former defence secretary protests his innocence - but sympathy in short supply for 'back-stabber'

Gavin Williamson has categorically denied leaking information from the National Security Council and insisted that his sacking last night was politically motivated.

The defence secretary was shown the door by Theresa May after information from a National Security Council meeting was leaked to The Daily Telegraph. He has been replaced by Penny Mordaunt, who becomes the first female defence secretary. 

May met Williamson in her Commons office for half an hour yesterday after receiving a briefing on the leak inquiry.

Downing Street said it had “compelling evidence” that Williamson was responsible for disclosing plans to allow Chinese telecoms giant Huawei to help build the UK’s 5G network.

But Williamson says he was the victim of a “vendetta” and a “kangaroo court”, and “swears on his children’s lives” that he is innocent.

Professor Michael Clarke, from the Royal United Services Institute, a security think tank, told the BBC that Williamson’s protestations of innocence are “extraordinary” as they are a direct criticism of those who investigated the matter.

Short shrift

Sympathy for the sacked minister is in short supply. The Financial Times says “there was also always something of the House of Cards” about Williamson, who “revelled in the intrigue of the House of Commons, the back-stabbing and the gossip”.

Writing in The Times, Daniel Finkelstein said Williamson’s “boast that he made Theresa May and could break her” also contributed to his downfall, as “exactly the sort of swaggering male condescension” that the prime minister hates.

Reminding us that Williamson once said that Russia should “go away and shut up,” the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg writes: “Well, the prime minister has told him to go away because in her view, he did not shut up.”

However, The Daily Telegraph says Downing Street “was unable to offer any proof” that Williamson was guilty, and is “likely to come under pressure to publish the evidence that led to his sacking”.

Broader significance

“Not since the Profumo affair of 1963 has a cabinet minister been forced out of their job for a national security breach,” says Sky News.

Its timing is apposite, according to The Guardian. “This sorry episode reminds the nation that many Conservatives are losing their grip on reality when they ought to be grappling with the most complex piece of statecraft in a generation,” the newspaper says.

Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, has called for a police inquiry to investigate whether Williamson breached the Official Secrets Act. Describing the departure as “the most brutal sacking letter of any minister I’ve seen in my lifetime”, Watson said there must be a “criminal inquiry” and that it should “go ahead rapidly”.

Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable backed the call, but Scotland Yard said: “At this time, we're not carrying out an investigation.”

Meanwhile, May’s spokesperson told a Westminster briefing: “It is not for the Government to determine prosecutions, but the prime minister has said, from her point of view, that she considers the matter to be closed.”

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