By Marco Giannangeli, Defence Editor
Sunday Express – 5 May 2019
EXCLUSIVE: Sacked Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson last night said he was the victim of “political score settling” and was being “hanged for something I didn’t do”. Speaking exclusively to the Sunday Express, he demanded Prime Minister Theresa May release details of the Huawei leak investigation. The 42-year-old has strenuously denied the accusation. He had supported calls for a criminal investigation that he claimed would “absolutely exonerate” him, insisting this would clear his name. He said he had been subject to a
“slipshod and slapdash witch-hunt”
“utterly confident I didn’t say anything inappropriate to anyone”.
He was sacked as defence secretary on Wednesday after a week-long inquiry, led by Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill, pointed to “compelling evidence” he was the source of leaked details from a National Security Council meeting. This revealed Government planned to use the Chinese telecom company to build parts of Britain’s 5G infrastructure.
The 42-year-old has strenuously denied the accusation. He had supported calls for a criminal investigation that he claimed would “absolutely exonerate” him. But last night Scotland Yard confirmed that there could be no police investigation because the information leaked did not “contain information that would breach the Official Secrets Act”, and no crime had therefore been committed.
Speaking from his home in Yorkshire last night, Mr Williamson said:
“I would have absolutely welcomed a criminal investigation as it would have been the quickest way to clear my name. But it seems that there’s no chance of that now. So the simplest thing would be to publish the report. The PM has spoken about compelling evidence. Well, I’d like to see it. Publish the report and so everyone can make a judgment.”
“This whole affair hasn’t been about trying to find the real culprit who leaked what was said at that meeting. It has been a game of politics, it’s been about settling scores and trying to prove the Prime Minister’s political strength. Whatever this report is, it’s slipshod and slapdash. It would be rather nice if a professional organisation or independent individuals carried out another one. And a full and impartial investigation needs to be conducted on this shabby and discredited witch-hunt that has been so badly mishandled by both the Prime Minister and Mark Sedwill.”
The father-of-two, who was known as “Spiderman” while a Chief Whip because he kept a pet tarantula in his office, said the last few days had been “particularly difficult”.
“You’ve got to be pretty sanguine in life, and especially in politics, but it is pretty painful when you’re getting hanged for something you didn’t do. It’s been a difficult few days. I always clearly understood that you cannot leak from the National Security Council. When you’re the defence secretary, you’re dealing with classified things of incredible importance, which affect people’s lives, on a daily basis. That’s why I’m so utterly confident that I didn’t say anything inappropriate to anyone.”
Sir Mark’s case against Mr Williamson centred, in part, on an 11-minute telephone conversation he had with a journalist.
“When I was pulled in by the PM, she said I’d spoken to a journalist. I confirmed this. In fact, I’d told my private office, my civil servants, that I’d spoken to a journalist. I then told the investigators. I showed the missed call I received from him and the time that I made my call. If you are leaking anything, why on earth would you have informed your civil servants? Perhaps I was bit naive in talking to him at all, but we spoke about a series of other matters and, the moment he raised the NSC, I simply said I couldn’t talk about it. He said he understood perfectly, and that was that.”
Further evidence which potentially exonerates him is contained in a text message trail on the morning that the revelations were made, he said.
“I had a conversation that morning with my special adviser after I listened to Radio 4’s Today programme. I’d assumed, by its tone, that Cabinet had leaked the details because it sounded so pro-Huawei. It was only later, when I read the newspaper report, that I realised this wasn’t the case. There are text messages to my ‘spad’ [special adviser] which showed my surprise. They were shown to the investigation.”
He said he had spent the last few days touring and “making his way north” to his South Staffordshire constituency.
“I’m still an MP, and there’s a lot of work to do. But I just needed a bit of quiet time to take everything in,”
he said. On Friday he took to social media posting a picture of himself eating at McDonald’s, with the caption:
“So the plan had been for dinner this evening with the US defence secretary at Lancaster House. Obviously things change and you just can’t beat a McDonald’s.”
Speaking last night Defence Select Committee chairman Dr Julian Lewis MP backed calls to publish the report.
“I’ve said all along this wasn’t a criminal matter, but rather about government embarrassment. I, too, would like to see the entire report published and handed over to the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy for review,”
Details leaked from the 10-strong NSC meeting included the move to allow Huawei’s involvement in Britain’s 5G system was reportedly opposed by Home Secretary Sajid Javid, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, International Trade Secretary Dr Liam Fox and International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt. As Mrs May holds two votes, she reportedly used them to support the Huawei plan.
Dr Lewis added:
“I don’t condone the leaking at all but successive governments have some responsibility for allowing a culture of leaking to flourish unpunished.
“But the real significance isn’t that someone leaked, rather, it’s the revelation that those at the meeting in charge of our foreign affairs, home affairs and defence, to which our intelligence agencies report, were all dead against the idea of allowing Huawei’s involvement in our 5G system.
“They were overruled by those from less security-oriented departments and, according to reports, the Prime Minister herself.”