Gavin Williamson urged to repay thousands of pounds to taxpayer after returning to cabinet

Exclusive: New education secretary thought to have received pay-off worth almost £17,000 but returned to cabinet after less than three months

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Sunday 04 August 2019 08:50
Theresa May on sacking Gavin Williamson 'I took the decision that I was the right decision'

Gavin Williamson is facing calls to pay back thousands of pounds to the taxpayer amid claims that he profited financially from being sacked as defence secretary.

The new education secretary returned to the government when Boris Johnson assumed office last month but was still receiving severance pay after leaving his previous cabinet job less than three months earlier.

Mr Williamson was dismissed by Theresa May in May after being accused of leaking details of national security discussions about the role of Chinese telecoms company Huawei in the UK.

He strongly denied being the source of the leak but was sacked after having the finger pointed at him following a leak inquiry by Sir Mark Sedwill, the cabinet secretary.

However, he was immediately appointed as education secretary when Mr Johnson took over as prime minister last month, marking a rapid return to the cabinet for the South Staffordshire MP after just 84 days out of government.

Under UK law, ministers who leave the government are entitled to receive a a lump sum payment equivalent to three months of their ministerial salary.

The current salary for full cabinet ministers is £67,505, meaning Mr Williamson would likely have received a pay-off of £16,876. Government documents reveal that other cabinet ministers who left the government in recent years received a similar amount, even if they resigned voluntarily.

Former ministers are only obliged to pay the money back if they return to the cabinet within three weeks of leaving it.

Mr Williamson’s return to government as education secretary less than three months after being sacked means he was effectively being paid twice during a period in late July.

Had he remained in his cabinet role, he would have earned £15,720 as a minister during the same period.

It means he is likely to have received £1,156 more as a result of being sacked than he would otherwise have done.

Government sources said there was no legal obligation on Mr Williamson to repay any of the money.

But Labour demanded that he pay back the amount in full.

Jo Platt, the party’s shadow cabinet office minister, said: “It is staggering that after nine years of brutal austerity any minister would accept a pay-out after leaving the most incompetent government in living memory.

“Given the nature of Williamson’s dismissal, and his quick return to cabinet less than three months later, the public will rightly find this pay-off insulting.

“The education secretary should publicly confirm that he will repay his severance package, in full”.

Theresa May won't give Gavin Williamson Huawei leak report

A Cabinet Office spokesperson declined to comment on specific cases but said the rules regarding ministers’ severance pay were set out in the Ministerial and other Pensions and Salaries Act 1991.

Mr Williamson’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

Some other former ministers are also likely to have received hefty pay-offs despite only having been in the cabinet for a matter of weeks.

Rory Stewart, who was promoted to international development secretary in early May and held the post for less than three months, also stands to receive £16,876 – more than double the £7,920 pay-off that he would have got in his previous role as a junior justice minister.

And Mel Stride, who was leader of the House of Commons for just one month, will receive several thousands pounds more than he would had he not been promoted from his previous role as economic secretary to the Treasury.

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