UK Politics

Profile: Gavin Williamson

Gavin Williamson with soldiers in April Image copyright PA

Gavin Williamson's sacking from government following a national security leak inquiry has come as a complete shock in Westminster.

The now former defence secretary is a key power-broker in Conservative circles and someone who had not hidden his ambition of one day becoming prime minister.

When he was chief whip, responsible for keeping MPs in line and enforcing party discipline, he kept a tarantula called Cronus on his desk.

Now Mr Williamson has found himself badly stung, although he continues to deny any wrongdoing over what No 10 says is the "unauthorised disclosure of information".

Downing Street said Theresa May had "lost confidence" in Mr Williamson in relation to his conduct, following an official probe into leaks from a National Security Council meeting.

He was one of a number of cabinet ministers who attended a meeting of the top-level body last week at which officials discussed whether to give the green light to Chinese firm Huawei investing in the UK's 5G digital infrastructure.

Claims No 10 had approved the Chinese firm's involvement in non-core elements were leaked to the Daily Telegraph - much to the anger of Downing Street and the intelligence agencies.

Speculation immediately centred on who was the culprit, with a number of cabinet ministers believed to be sceptical about Huawei's involvement due to its links to the Chinese government - including Mr Williamson - appearing in the frame.

The 42-year-old was raised near Scarborough by Labour-supporting parents.

Educated at local state schools, he became involved in Conservative politics while studying at Bradford University and later went on to become a county councillor in North Yorkshire.

He was elected to Parliament as MP for South Staffordshire in 2010.

Gavin Williamson/Instagram
Frankly, Russia should go away and should shut up
Gavin Williamson
Speaking in the wake of the Salisbury nerve agent attacks

His quiet rise through the Conservative ranks began when he became a ministerial aide to David Cameron, acting as the then PM's bag carrier and eyes and ears in Parliament.

He remained in the important role until Mr Cameron left office in June 2016.

After Theresa May became prime minister, he was made chief whip and, in the aftermath of the disastrous 2017 election, he played a crucial role in paving the way for the Conservatives' agreement with the Democratic Unionists to prop up her minority government.

He was by the PM's side when the two sides sealed the agreement.

When Michael Fallon quit as defence secretary in December 2017, Mrs May reportedly turned to Mr Williamson to suggest a replacement.

To the consternation of many Tory MPs and some within the armed services, he was himself soon unveiled in the prestigious role.

Once at the MoD, he lobbied successfully for more funding for the military, often to the irritation of the Treasury.

But he was derided in the press for telling Russia to "shut up and go away" and suggestions the UK should respond in kind to "acts of warfare" by the Kremlin.

The father of two voted Remain in the 2016 referendum but has since hardened his line and was believed to have argued for the UK to be prepared to leave without a deal.

Mrs May's former adviser Joey Jones says Mr Williamson is a "dangerous person not to have onside" as he's been "right at the heart of it for a long time".

"He knows where the bodies are buried," Mr Jones says.

Former Downing Street communications director Katie Perrior agrees that Mr Williamson "poses a huge risk".

"If he is going down, he is not going down alone and he is going to try and take a few with him," she says.

"I'd be very worried if I was in the cabinet today."

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