Labour demands PM ‘calls in the police’ over leak affair
Theresa May should “call in the police” in the wake of Gavin Williamson being sacked as defence secretary, Labour has insisted.
As the shock waves from the firing of Mr Williamson continued to reverberate across Westminster, Labour branded the ex-Cabinet minister “treacherous” and demanded the Prime Minister make an emergency statement to the Commons on Thursday.
The move followed Mrs May’s abrupt firing of Mr Williamson as he strongly denied he was behind an unprecedented National Security Council (NSC) leak.
The Prime Minister sacked her former close political ally following an inquiry into how information from secret NSC discussions about Chinese telecoms giant Huawei’s involvement in the development of the UK’s 5G mobile network was printed in the Daily Telegraph.
The controversy continued to rage as voters were going to the polls in local elections across England and Northern Ireland on Thursday, as opposition parties demanded a police probe into the affair.
Labour’s shadow defence secretary Nia Griffith told BBC2’s Newsnight: “Clearly, there’s a real breakdown in discipline and Theresa May now needs to take absolutely firm action, and, quite frankly, I think she needs to call in the police and have a full investigation, because we are talking, actually, breaking the Official Secrets Act and, actually, there may well be a case to answer here.”
“I think it was absolutely treacherous – both to the country, but also to the Prime Minister.
“If you are going to run a government, you need loyalty from your ministers, you need loyalty from your Cabinet.
“We have here a case of yet another Tory minister putting leadership ambition before the good of the country.”
Former national security adviser Lord Ricketts told the BBC: “On the face of it, this is a breach of the Official Secrets Act. All the ministers and officials around the table will have signed that.
“So, it seems to me the police ought to be considering, is there a case to be considered there?
“It would be for the Director of Public Prosecutions to make the decisions, not ministers.”
Liberal Democrat deputy leader Jo Swinson has written to Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick calling for a criminal investigation.
The letter states: “I am writing to ask you to open a criminal investigation to ascertain whether the actions of Mr Williamson constitute a breach of the Official Secrets Act.”
Sky News political editor Beth Rigby tweeted that Mr Williamson told her he “wanted a police investigation because I would have been cleared. They would have had to have evidence. That is what I wanted”.
Ms Rigby said the ex-minister told her the situation was “a witch-hunt from the start” and he had been “in a kangaroo court with a summary execution”.
Asked about the possibility of a prosecution, Mrs May’s official spokesman 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.”
Scotland Yard said in a statement that it was a matter for the NSC and the Cabinet Office and it was not carrying out an investigation at this time.
“Clearly, if at any stage we receive any information that would suggest criminal offences have been committed, then we will look into that,” it added.
The Prime Minister fired Mr Williamson in a 30-minute showdown in her Commons office which triggered a Cabinet reshuffle making Penny Mordaunt Defence Secretary, the first female to occupy the role, and prisons minister Rory Stewart replacing Ms Mordaunt as International Development Secretary.
Mr Williamson strongly denied leaking information from the NSC.
He hit back with a letter to the PM in which he cast doubt on the investigation conducted by Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill.
“I strenuously deny that I was in any way involved in this leak and I am confident that a thorough and formal inquiry would have vindicated my position,” wrote Mr Williamson.
Mr Williamson revealed that he rejected an offer from Mrs May to resign rather than be sacked, saying that this would have sent a signal that he accepted that either he or his team was guilty.
Telling Mr Williamson of his dismissal, Mrs May said she was “concerned” at the manner in which he had engaged with Sir Mark’s inquiry.
Other NSC attendees had “all answered questions, engaged properly, provided as much information as possible to assist with the investigation, and encouraged their staff to do the same”, she said.
The PM added: “Your conduct has not been of the same standard as others”.
“In our meeting this evening, I put to you the latest information from the investigation, which provides compelling evidence suggesting your responsibility for the unauthorised disclosure. No other, credible version of events to explain this leak has been identified.”
Mr Williamson said in a letter to Mrs May: “I am sorry that you feel recent leaks from the National Security Council originated in my department. I emphatically believe that this was not the case.”
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, commenting on Mr Williamson’s departure as he arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, said: “On a personal level, I’m very sorry about what happened for Gavin’s sake, but given the gravity of the situation, there was no other alternative outcome.”
South Staffordshire MP Mr Williamson, 42, was a surprise appointment as defence secretary in November 2017 after a meteoric rise which saw him enter the Cabinet without ever having served in a junior ministerial role.
He was one of Mrs May’s closest allies after she made him chief whip on entering Downing Street in 2016.
But during his time in the Cabinet, he showed increasing signs of independence from the PM and was widely regarded as preparing for a tilt at the top job when she stands down.