THERESA MAY acted decisively by sacking Gavin Williamson, the Scarborough-born Defence Secretary, for highly-sensitive leaks from the National Security Council.
She must now go further, in the wake of the Yorkshireman’s denials of wrongdoing, and ask the police to see if any criminal offence has been committed under the Official Secrets Act.
The public interest demands nothing less after the Prime Minister effectively found her former close confidante, and the man in charge of national security, of being guilty of political treachery of the highest order following an inquiry headed by the Cabinet Secretary after intelligence chiefs were left incandescent by this betrayal.
One of the most serious defence scandals since John Profumo’s resignation at the height of the Cold War in 1963, Mr Williamson’s downfall over the awarding of a contract to Chinese tech giant Huawei shows the extent to which Cabinet, and Tory party, discipline has broken down since Brexit.
After all, Mr Williamson was a key aide to David Cameron before effectively running Theresa May’s successful leadership campaign in 2016. He became the PM’s chief whip, the enforcer of discipline, before putting himself forward to be Defence Secretary when Sir Michael Fallon resigned.
The only saving grace is that Mrs May has now decided to belatedly appoint Penny Mordaunt, a Naval reservist, as Britain’s first female Defence Secretary. She was the most able candidate when Sir Michael quit in November 2017 over his personal conduct and her first task will be to reassure this country’s allies that Britain can be trusted, and that the Government is still capable of honouring confidences, at this time of political crisis.
And, as for the Armed Forces who continue to be taken for granted, they have a right to expect some continuity after Ms Mordaunt became Britain’s seventh Defence Secretary in a decade. Not only does such a high turnover of political chiefs reflect poorly on the calibre of appointments made by successive premiers, but it makes it harder for Britain to command the respect of allies on all defence, intelligence and security matters. This must change.