How the shock sacking of Gavin Williamson could backfire for Number Ten

The shock sacking of Gavin Williamson looked at first glance to be an uncharacteristic moment of decisiveness and strength from Theresa May.

Former Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson. Credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA

Leak inquiries are notorious for starting with a bang, proceeding with a lot of paper shuffling and ending with a whimper.

But this one ended with an explosion, as the Prime Minister hauled in her Defence Secretary, accused him of blabbing state secrets and sacked him on the spot.

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And in her letter to him afterwards, she laid bare her anger at her former Chief Whip.

May wrote that she was “concerned by the manner in which you have engaged with this investigation,” and had “concluded that I can no longer have full confidence in you as Secretary of State for Defence.”

The entire Huawei inquiry was speedy and thorough, and gave us a rare glimpse of Number Ten flexing its muscles and taking back control - of the Cabinet at least.

The subsequent reshuffle was equally speedy, with Penny Mordaunt quickly named as Williamson’s successor and Rory Stewart appointed to take over from her.

The recruitment of Stewart to the Cabinet was also seen as a savvy move from Downing Street, with the former Prisons Minister proving his loyalty over the last few months through an untiring commitment to defending the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal.

However, in the immediate aftermath it became clear that Williamson was not going to go quietly.

The Scarborough-born Tory hit back in the strongest of terms, telling journalists that he was prepared to swear on the lives of his children that he was not the source of the leak and suggesting that Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill had seized on the incident to settle old scores.

And as the Commons digested the news, calls mounted for a police inquiry.

In the coming weeks the fallout is likely to dominate the news agenda. And as it does Number Ten’s bold move might come to look like a moment of madness.