Tuesday 21 May 2019

Williamson: 'I'm not the leaker'

Sacked UK defence secretary 'swears on children's lives' amid calls for criminal probe

Lost job: Gavin Williamson was accused of leaking sensitive details. Photo: Alkis Konstantinidis
Lost job: Gavin Williamson was accused of leaking sensitive details. Photo: Alkis Konstantinidis

Shaun Connolly

Britain's sacked former defence secretary Gavin Williamson said he would have been "absolutely exonerated" by a police investigation into the Huawei leak as MPs called for Scotland Yard to launch a criminal probe.

The Labour Party is leading calls for detectives to investigate if a breach of the UK's Official Secrets Act was committed when details of a highly sensitive National Security Council discussion on Chinese telecoms giant Huawei were leaked to a newspaper.

Scotland Yard said it was not carrying out an inquiry, although would look into any information "that would suggest criminal offences have been committed".

Mr Williamson said he swore on his children's lives that he was not behind the Huawei leak.

But barrister and former independent reviewer of terror legislation Alex Carlile told BBC Radio 5 Live that it was "repugnant" to hear people make such remarks.

Mr Carlile said: "Lawyers like me find it pretty repugnant to hear people swearing on their children's lives. It would rarely cut ice in a court, frankly."

New role: Penny Mordaunt is now UK defence secretary. Photo: Toby Melville
New role: Penny Mordaunt is now UK defence secretary. Photo: Toby Melville

Mr Williamson was immediately replaced in his role at the head of the Ministry of Defence by International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt.

Meanwhile, Downing Street said Prime Minister Theresa May "considers the matter to be closed". A government minister was summoned to the House of Commons yesterday morning for a grilling from MPs on the affair, after Speaker John Bercow granted Labour an urgent question.

Labour deputy leader Tom Watson requested a statement from Mrs May on the findings of the leak inquiry, but it was unclear whether the prime minister would respond in person or send another minister.

Meanwhile, Mrs May went into yesterday's local elections amid controversy over an ongoing Brexit delay and the growing row over the cabinet sacking.

With predictions that the Tories could lose more than 800 seats, Conservative high command appears braced for a difficult result.

Elections took place in 248 English councils outside London, and 11 local authority areas in Northern Ireland.

There were also polls for six elected mayors in Bedford, Copeland, Leicester, Mansfield, Middlesbrough and the new North of Tyne devolved regional authority.

The poll comes as Mrs May has faced criticism for pushing back the Brexit date to October 31, and is embroiled in fresh controversy after dismissing Mr Williamson as defence secretary after the inquiry into leaks from the National Security Council. Close to 60pc of the 8,425 seats up for grabs in England were held by the Conservatives, with a quarter held by Labour.

The last time a majority of the seats were fought over in 2015, the Tories were on an electoral high as they secured their first Commons majority since 1992 on the same day.

Most of the electoral battles were in the Tory shires or Labour strongholds in northern cities, limiting the prospects for large-scale gains by Jeremy Corbyn's party.

The results are unlikely to be a guide for European elections scheduled for later in the month, as neither Nigel Farage's Brexit Party nor the Remain-backing Change UK was fielding candidates.

However, Brexit was expected to play a major role in the elections. Conservatives fear Leave-backing supporters would stay at home or switch to Ukip in anger at Mrs May's failure to deliver Brexit on time on March 29.

Councils to watch yesterday included Dudley, Trafford and Derby, where Labour could gain overall control, and Swindon, Great Yarmouth, Redditch and St Albans, where control could slip out of Tory hands.

Irish Independent

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