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Williamson’s allies demand government reveal evidence used to sack him

Gavin Williamson’s allies demand the ‘kangaroo court’ that convicted him of leaking reveals its evidence as row with Theresa May’s cabinet chief Sir Mark Sedwill deepens

  • The Tories are plunged into a new civil war with Gavin Williamson’s sacking
  • MPs are furious with the senior civil servant Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill
  • Sedwill led the investigation into the leak and has been criticised by Williamson 
  • Mr Williamson’s first reaction was that the Government had sourced the leak

Theresa May faced a ferocious backlash from Gavin Williamson’s Tory allies last night as MPs demanded to see the evidence showing he was behind the Huawei leak.

As the Tories plunged into a fresh civil war over his sacking, backbenchers lined up to criticise the treatment of the former defence secretary.

They are unhappy about the role of Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill, Britain’s most senior civil servant, and claimed his leak inquiry was ‘shambolic’ and a ‘kangaroo court’.

They insisted in the Commons that Mrs May publish the ‘compelling evidence’ that led her to blame Mr Williamson for last week’s leak from a National Security Council (NSC) discussion into whether Huawei should have a role in Britain’s 5G network.

Prime Minister Theresa May (left) has infuriated her backbenchers who believe Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill (right) should reveal how his investigation into the Huawei leak came to its conclusions

Williamson shared this snap on his Instagram on Thursdaywith the caption: ‘When you have had a pretty tough week it’s rather nice to get out and about with some really good company. #dogsofinstagram #dogs’

Meanwhile, Mr Williamson insisted he would ‘massively welcome’ a police investigation into the accusation that he leaked details to a journalist, claiming it would ‘absolutely exonerate’ him.

He added: ‘As soon as they have the reporter’s notepad it would show I didn’t say anything, then I would get the nicest apology from the Prime Minister, far nicer than the last letter she sent me.’

Mr Williamson said his first reaction on hearing the NSC story was that the Government had revealed details from the meeting, adding: ‘I thought, “The buggers, they’ve leaked the sodding thing”.’

He is understood to have complained that he was interviewed for around two hours last Friday during the leak inquiry, in which ‘scraps of paper’ were used as evidence, while other ministers only faced grillings of 20 to 30 minutes.

The former defence secretary admits that at around 5.30pm on the day of the NSC he had an 11-minute phone call with the journalist who wrote the Huawei story. But he insists this does not mean he was the source of the leak.

Whitehall sources claim there is other evidence against Mr Williamson. However, it was claimed last night that Mr Williamson was refused a copy of the report of Sir Mark’s investigation.

Mark Sedwill and Jeremy Hunt (left) in January – Tory MPs are unhappy with Sedwill’s role in Williamson’s sacking

Then NATO’s civilian representative in Afghanistan Mark Sedwill answers a question during a press briefing in Islamabad on May 4, 2010 – he is the most senior civil servant in the land

Mr Williamson also criticised the ‘haphazard way’ it was carried out and complained to friends that he was only fired because of information he had volunteered.

However, Downing Street appeared to kill off the prospect of a police investigation last night as it emerged that Sir Mark had ruled against referring the matter to Scotland Yard on the grounds that the alleged leak did not constitute a criminal offence.

And despite opposition MPs clamouring for a criminal probe, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick said the force would not start one without a Cabinet Office referral.

It means there is unlikely to be a full investigation into allegations that appear to have left Mr Williamson’s political career in tatters. The news came as:

  • Downing Street defended Theresa May’s decision to sack Mr Williamson, insisting she had remove him to restore confidence in the NSC so intelligence officials could continue to share classified information with ministers;
  • Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, called for a police probe and said Mr Williamson’s case could not be closed while he stood accused of criminal behaviour that he denied;
  • Lord Carlile, the former independent reviewer of terror legislation, said it was ‘repugnant’ of Mr Williamson to swear on his children’s lives that he was not behind the leak, saying this form of oath would ‘rarely cut ice in a court’.
  • Jeremy Hunt criticised Cabinet colleagues for leaking information that he said had undermined Brexit. He also defended Sir Mark against Mr Williamson’s criticism of the investigation.

Mr Williamson was dismissed on Wednesday after the Prime Minister confronted him over last week’s leak to a newspaper that revealed several Cabinet ministers were opposed to allowing the Chinese telecoms giant Huawei to be involved in Britain’s new 5G mobile network.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson and Prime Minister Theresa May who sacked him as Defence Secretary, following an investigation into the Huawei leak

Former Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson leaving Downing Street on Thursday

Jeremy Hunt leaving Downing Street with Gavin Williamson last month – Hunt warned leaks were causing damage to Brexit by undermining the Prime Minister

Mr Williamson angrily denied he was responsible last night, and suggested the inquiry into the leak was rigged.

Yesterday in the Commons, Former minister Sir Desmond Swayne said Mr Williamson had effectively been branded a liar.

He told MPs: ‘Natural justice requires that the evidence is produced so that his reputation can be salvaged or utterly destroyed.’

Tory MP Peter Bone said: ‘The former secretary of state has said that, on the lives of his children, he did not leak the information.

‘This seems to have been a kangaroo court reaching a decision in secret which we have no evidence to base any decision on. Could it just be possible that the kangaroo court has made a mistake?’

Peter Bone disagreed with Williamson’s sacking

Mr Williamson has been replaced as Defence Secretary by Penny Mordaunt, leading to the promotion the Cabinet of Rory Stewart who has taken her place as International Development Secretary.

Sir John Redwood suggested the reshuffle was conducted to boost support for Mrs May’s Brexit deal, tweeting: ‘The purpose is clear. Mr Williamson thought we should get on with leaving the EU. Mr Stewart is wedded to Mrs May’s deeply unpopular ‘stay in and pay up’ agreement.’

Jacob Rees-Mogg tweeted: ‘The security issue is not who leaked, but Huawei.’

But Mr Watson said it was ‘clear’ the disclosure of NSC discussions could amount to a breach of the Official Secrets Act, writing to the PM: ‘It is not for the ministers or civil servants to determine whether the information they have gathered meets the threshold for a criminal investigation. The police and Crown Prosecution Service must make this assessment.’

Earlier, Cabinet Office minister David Lidington told the Commons: ‘The Prime Minister has said she considers this matter has been closed and the Cabinet Secretary does not consider it necessary to refer it to the police. But we would, of course, co-operate fully should the police themselves consider that an investigation were necessary.’

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