Friends of Gavin Williamson offer his side of the story as follows. He did speak to Steven Swinford, the Daily Telegraph journalist who wrote the story about the Huawei debate in the National Security Council, last Tuesday. But, they say, Swinford phone him, and the discussion wasn’t about Huawei – let alone the NSC discussion about allowing the company to help build Britain’s 5G network. “The conversation had nothing to do with national security – I can tell you that,” ConservativeHome is told.
The Williamson camp claim that Mark Sedwill, the Cabinet Secretary who undertook the leak enquiry, has had an unhappy relationship with the former Defence Secretary, and that Sedwill “was out to get Gavin”. They say that the two got off to a bad start when Williamson clashed with the Cabinet Secretary over the National Security Capability Review. The former wanted the defence element of the review dealt with separately – and eventually succeeded in doing so.
They go on to allege that Sedwill told a meeting of civil servants last Wednesday – the day of Swinford’s Telegraph story – that Williamson was responsible for the leak, that this pre-empted and prejudiced any enquiry, and that Sedwill consequently showed at least one private text message to him from the former Defence Secretary to third parties.
Williamson’s friends insist that the first he heard of the story was when listening to Today last Wednesday morning. That he assumed the Cabinet Office was itself responsible. That he told David Lidington, the Cabinet Office Minister, so at breakfast in the Commons that morning. And that he then told staff at the Ministry of Defence both that this was his view, and that he had spoken to Swinford the previous day – but not about the NSC proceedings.
The Prime Minister apparently offered him the choice of resignation or sacking this evening – and left her own room in Downing Street to let him decide. Williamson told her on return that he wasn’t responsible for the leak, was refusing to resign and that “he hoped she’d remember in the future that she’d fired an innocent man”.
The nub of the matter is whether one believes Williamson’s account; whether the enquiry has been properly conducted, and whether or not others who attended the NSC meeting in question – or still others who they may have spoken to – can be proven not to have been in touch with Swinford on the same day.
Common sense suggests that it will be impossible to prove that no-one other than Williamson did so, or that Swinford was not able to put his story together from a variety of sources. The former Defence Secretary’s allies insist that “nothing would please Gavin more than if the police were called in – because then we’d be able to have a proper investigation”. It is also being reported that the inquiry was instigated by Sedwill, not by May.
It should be added that Downing Street strongly denies that last claim, not to mention any suggestion of a vendetta, and “draws attention to the Prime Minister’s letter” – which suggests that other Cabinet Minister engaged with the enquiry with a fullness that Williamson did not, and that “the appropriate conclusion must be drawn”.
8.00am update: The former Defence Secretary’s on-the-record quotes from yesterday evening are vivid stuff: This was “a witch hunt from the start…in a kangaroo court with a summary execution”…“I swear on my children’s lives that I’m innocent”…”[I’ve been] completely screwed”…I’ve been hung for a crime I didn’t do.”