GAVIN Williamson, sacked as Defence Secretary by Treacherous, Toxic Theresa over the Huawei leak, seemed such an unlikely candidate for the role of Martyred-By-May.
Williamson was May’s parliamentary campaign manager during her July 2016 leadership election-turned-coronation, and was appointed as Chief Whip by her in reward. He was the first person she consulted in November 2017 about a replacement for Michael Fallon at Defence, acquiescing immediately when he allegedly responded by suggesting himself.
He’s long been accused, not without justification, of being hubristic, of estimating his popularity, performance and political potential to be much higher than both colleagues’ and commentators’ estimation of all three, and of being unfortunately, almost childishly, gaffe-prone.
Yet on this occasion, he might just be like the stopped clock that’s right twice a day.
In two superb articles for TCW, here and here, Bruce Newsome set out the geo-strategic and security implications of what to many is the unfathomable decision to allow in effect a corporate arm of the Chinese Communist State to infiltrate our national communications system and have potential access to some of our most sensitive security infrastructure.
Quite rightly, much of his two articles, and that of Tim Bradshaw’s at TCW here, focus on Williamson, May and her eminence grise, Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill. Correct though this is, the position, and possibly even role, of some of the other players in the drama may be going by default.
On first reading Tim Shipman’s account of the leak inquiry in the Sunday Times of 28 April, two days before Williamson’s theatrical sacking, I was initially surprised to find the comparatively lowly International Development Secretary, then Penny Mordaunt, listed as a member of the National Security Council. Yes, the Home, Defence, and Foreign Secretaries you would anticipate, I thought, possibly even Health, but International Development? Overseas aid?
A few minutes’ cursory research however revealed the membership to be somewhat wider than you might expect for such a sensitive body. The beauty of such a wide membership, of course, is that it makes the source of a leak much harder to pinpoint. And easier to deny or conceal. Or even misrepresent.
In addition to the justified concerns of our closest allies in the Five Eyes partnership, there’s a substantial EU dimension to all this.
Firstly, taking advantage of the USA’s understandable reluctance, and as Future Cities’ Andrew Williams explained at Spiked! on 2 May, the EU is trying to insert itself into the position of being China’s non-US ally. It isn’t hard to see which way the viscerally pro-EU, anti-Trump, Whitehall officialdom would lean in that dispute.
Secondly, the concerns about the implications of May’s (non)-‘Withdrawal’ Agreement for Defence and Security, and the extent to which Britain’s Remainer Establishment are pushing for greater EU control of both, even in the event of May’s strictly cosmetic Brexit, are deepening as they become more apparent.
The former head of MI6 has gone on record expressing his grave misgivings at the cession to the EU of UK autonomy, decision-making and control over what he rightly terms sovereign responsibilities, even in the event of our supposed exit from Brussels’ political and administrative structures . . .
. . . while Veterans for Britain’s briefing document of 29 March leaves little room for doubt on the extent to which Whitehall officialdom, seemingly with May’s full consent, has been augmenting the UK’s enmeshing within burgeoning EU Defence and Defence-related industrial integration, surreptitiously, even since the 2016 EU Referendum’s decision to leave.
The details were spelt out in chilling detail by Briefings for Brexit’s Professor Gwythian Prins in a speech to the Heritage Foundation. It looks beyond dispute that Cabinet Office officials presenting to EU diplomats with May’s imprimatur confirmed a direct intention to stay under EU authority in defence, via the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy.
Which brings us back to the fragrant Penny Mordaunt, and her unexpected promotion. She was previously a junior Defence minister so, irrespective of her backing for May’s version of (non)-Brexit, might it not have been reasonable to expect her to have at least voiced some doubts to the National Security Council about the wisdom of embracing Huawei so eagerly, or about the subordination of much of our defence capability to the EU? Yet in the reports emerging of the NSC’s deliberations there has been no hint of that.
TCW readers will recall how, last autumn, supposed ‘Cabinet Brexiteer’ Mordaunt was trying to have her cake and eat it too by making ritual resignation noises but also allegedly asking May to let her vote publicly against May’s deal in the Commons – presumably to impress her constituents – but still remain in Cabinet.
Needless to say, her resignation ‘threat’ turned out to be empty, and she now appears fully signed up to May’s abominable (non)-‘Withdrawal’ Agreement. As well, of course, as deploying stock Green hyperbole to parade her impeccably woke credentials. Had she been given a signal?
How much May, no doubt prompted by Sedwill, must regard her as a welcome, ideologically-sound replacement for the increasingly sceptical Williamson, with the additional benefit that having once threatened to resign but climbed down, any further such threat, or even objection, from her would totally lack credibility. She’s been neutered.
She will be, I suspect, another compliant May stooge in the Karen Bradley mould. Moreover, as she retains her previous ministerial responsibilities for Women and Equalities, apparently the role of Defence Secretary now isn’t even a full-time job. But then again, perhaps it would no longer be one if May has surreptitiously signed over so much control of our defence capability to the EU below the radar.
May has gained in two ways. Not only does she remove one, albeit recently-converted, born-again Brexiteer opponent from Cabinet, but she replaces him with a rabid Remainer, Rory Stewart, the sycophant’s sycophant, who this past few days has been busy obsequiously hawking his conscience and his slavish loyalty round the media studios.
Stewart, as he told Robert Peston last week, believes that that a No-Deal Brexit would be ‘toxic and unacceptable’, so much so that he would accept any form of managed, agreed Brexit, no matter how diluted or cosmetic it was.
Or, evidently, no matter who it would have to be ‘agreed’ with, given his pleadings to Corbyn yesterday to do a deal with May to pass her execrable (non)-‘Withdrawal’ Agreement through the Commons on Labour votes and against her own MPs, and his assertions that a split in the ‘Conservative’ party would be an acceptable price to pay to achieve it.
How congenial Theresa May, only last week accused of treating Labour members of the Commons Liaison Committee with excessive deference and exaggerated courtesy, while treating its Conservative members with undisguised brusque contempt, must find that.
Identifying where the blame truly lies in all such leak scandals, it often helps to ask: cui bono? Literally, ‘to whom is it a benefit?’ The principle being that probable responsibility for an act or event often lies with the one having something to gain from it. So should it be with the Williamson/Huawei one. Truth will out.