The revelation that Gavin Williamson has been sacked as Defence Secretary by Prime Minister Theresa May is a welcome display of decisiveness on the part of the PM.
The probe into the leak over Chinese telecommunication firm Huawei’s possible involvement in the UK’s developing 5G network revealed that Williamson, despite denials on his part, was the Cabinet Member responsible. This does raise some disturbing questions however.
Fiona Onasanya, now a former Labour MP after being expelled from the party after she was shown to have lied over a speeding offence, faced calls to be sacked as an MP and a recall petition was triggered in her constituency. According to figures quoted in national print media, some 19,261 people signed the petition – just under 7,000 signatures were needed for it to succeed. Consequently it has been announced that as the petition was successful, the Peterborough parliamentary seat is now vacant. Labour’s chief whip Nick Brown was expected to move the writ needed to trigger the by-election today. One immediate reaction was a tweet from Nigel Farage saying that the Brexit Party will contest the resulting by-election.
It is not necessarily Onasanya’s conviction that is the problem. Driving too fast can happen to anybody and had she held up her hands and admitted it, she would still have been convicted. Despite that, she could have stayed on as an MP – but she lied. That is why she was sent to prison and her not being truthful is why she has betrayed the trust of her constituents and why she must leave Parliament. Should the same apply to Williamson?
Labour deputy leader Tom Watson and Lib Dem leader Vince Cable both said Mr Williamson should now face a police probe over his actions.
Watson tweeted: "If he has leaked from the National Security Council, Gavin Williamson should be prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act. And he should forgo his ministerial severance pay."
Mr Cable said: "This story cannot begin and end with dismissal from office.
"What is at stake is the capacity of our security services to give advice at the highest level. This must now be referred to the Metropolitan Police for a thorough criminal investigation into breaches of the Official Secrets Act."
There is of course, the possibility that Williamson did not leak anything. If, as he strenuously says, he did not, then of course he is innocent. Since proof of his guilt has not yet been placed in the public domain, there is a case for saying he should not lose his Ministerial job or his position as an MP until it is. Is it the place of government to make that proof public? And without the right to a proper defence?
Only the government itself can answer that.
Leave aside for a moment that his pronouncements as Defence Secretary have, on all too frequent occasions, been questionable – to give just one example, his declaration that the UK would send its one and only aircraft carrier to sail close to China in order to scare them off was absurd. Such a move could, and in all probability would, be overruled and rightly so.
But since he has, it would seem, lied about leaking a matter of national security, then there must be at least a public enquiry or an investigation by the police – or both - and if it is right to do so, charges over a breach of the Official Secrets Act laid. In that instance, Gavin Williamson would have the right, and in public, to have his say and present evidence, just as the prosecution would. However, as harsh as it might be, he cannot remain as a minister. His conduct so far has not been becoming of a holder of ministerial office and his positioning himself for a tilt at the leadership (along with far too many others) means that, like Fiona Onasanya, he has lost the trust of his constituents, and of the people. Consequently, and as a result of that loss of trust, there is no doubt at all that he must leave Parliament and at the soonest possible opportunity.