Gavin Williamson: Now he's told to 'go away and shut up'

Gavin Williamson Image copyright Reuters

As a relatively new defence secretary, Gavin Williamson once said that Russia should "go away and shut up".

Well, the prime minister has told him to go away because in her view, he did not shut up.

In a leak investigation, that has broken the precedent of most leak investigations that end up with precisely no result at all, a rapid hunt of just a few days has resulted in the sacking of one of the most senior ministers in government, and one of the few ministers frankly, that the prime minister could more or less rely on.

Mr Williamson was for a while chief whip too, the keeper of the government's secrets.

And, crucially, one of the few ministers who had good relations with the DUP. Indeed, brokering a deal on Theresa May's behalf in the wreckage of the 2017 general election.

But there was also a lot of resentment and frustration in government circles at how he sometimes behaved, suspicion often that he was too quick to seek his own political advantage, too interested in his own future, too entertained by the dark arts of Westminster.

That meant that as soon as the Huawei story broke, fingers were being privately pointed to him as the source of the leak. "Operation get Gav", as one of his allies described it.

Ministers were quick to write to Number 10 demanding a full inquiry, some of them privately fuming that "it must have been Williamson".

Number 10 now says there was "compelling evidence" to prove that it was him.

Officials carrying out the inquiry did look at his phone.

He did, by his own admission, have a conversation on the particular day with the journalist who broke the story.

Downing Street has made a very serious accusation and is sure enough to carry out this sacking.

For the prime minister's allies, it will show that she is, despite the political turmoil, still strong enough to move some of her ministers around - to hire and fire.

Mr Williamson is strenuously still denying that the leak was anything to do with him at all.

There is nothing fond, or anything conciliatory, in either the letter from the prime minister to him, or his reply back to her.

And having had a fractious relationship with the National Security Adviser and Cabinet Secretary, Sir Mark Sedwill, some of Mr Williamson's friends believe that those looking into the affair were simply too quick to conclude the former defence secretary was responsible, treating him differently in this short investigation, compared to others who were on the list.

One senior Conservative also points out a rich irony here, saying: "A government that governs by open leaking then sacks someone for not being open about their leaking. We have surely moved from the incompetent to the theatre of the absurd!"

These are strange times indeed.

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