Gavin Williamson, twice-sacked minister who oversaw exams fiasco, knighted

Downing Street announced that the Queen has approved the honour for the Tory MP.

Sam Blewett
Thursday 03 March 2022 17:57 GMT
Gavin Williamson is being knighted (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Gavin Williamson is being knighted (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Archive)

Gavin Williamson, who was twice sacked as a Cabinet minister and oversaw the exams fiasco during the coronavirus pandemic, has been given a knighthood by Boris Johnson.

Downing Street said on Thursday that the Queen has approved the honour for the Tory MP, who was widely criticised for a series of errors as education secretary.

The Prime Minister sacked Mr Williamson from that role in September and he was previously dumped as defence secretary following an inquiry into a leak from the National Security Council.

It was understood the knighthood was being given to the 45-year-old who helped run Mr Johnson’s successful 2019 campaign to succeed Theresa May as Tory leader on the basis of his political and public service.

Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting tweeted: “Reward for failure. Shameless.”

A gathering held in the education department under his watch during Covid restrictions was investigated by senior civil servant Sue Gray, but was ultimately not part of the police inquiry.

Mr Williamson, the MP for South Staffordshire, reportedly gave a short speech at the event on December 10 2020, while London was under Tier 2 measures banning social mixing between households.

Mr Williamson clung on as education secretary for more than two years despite being battered by repeated calls for his resignation.

His handling of disruption to schools during the height of the pandemic and the grading of GCSEs and A-levels after exams were cancelled was widely seen as disastrous.

He was also criticised for confusing free school meals campaigning footballer Marcus Rashford with England rugby star Maro Itoje. Both men are black.

Mr Williamson was rewarded with the role as education secretary by the Prime Minister in July 2019 despite being sacked as defence secretary by Mrs May earlier that year.

That firing came following an inquiry into the leak of information from a security council meeting about Chinese telecoms firm Huawei’s involvement in the UK’s 5G mobile network. Mr Williamson denied being the source of the leak.

He was previously Mrs May’s chief whip, and in that period was best known in Westminster for keeping a pet tarantula named Cronus on his desk and he has acquired the nickname Private Pike, after the hapless Dad’s Army character.

Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman Munira Wilson said:“The only award Gavin Williamson should be given is the one for worst education secretary in history.

“People across the country will be outraged at this reward for his abysmal failures.

“It is an insult to every child, parent and teacher who struggled through Covid against the odds. It shows this government only cares about those at the top.”

Labour’s shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said: “Gavin Williamson left children to go hungry, created two years of complete chaos over exams and failed to get laptops out to kids struggling to learn during lockdowns.

“His record is astonishing and disgraceful.

“This shows utter contempt for the challenges children and education staff have faced during the pandemic.”

No 10, asked why the knighthood was being announced now and not part of an honours list, said it was a political appointment by the Conservative Party.

A Downing Street statement said: “The Queen has been pleased to approve that the honour of knighthood be conferred upon the Rt Hon Gavin Williamson CBE MP.”

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