Before becoming defense secretary, Gavin Williamson was the Tory chief whip, responsible for keeping the party in line. Now he’s demanding discipline at the Ministry of Defence (MoD), ordering military chiefs to stop leaking gossip to journalists.
Williamson has told top brass to stop whispering their grievances into the flapping ears of the British press following a number of embarrassing headlines about cuts to the defense budget, it has been claimed.
Senior military officers were reportedly called in for a “dressing down.” Stephen Lovegrove, the permanent secretary at the MoD, dragged officials in after warning them to stop the leaks.
After the meeting, Lovegrove was forced to follow up with a warning letter because of more leaks. Details of the letter – you guessed it – were also leaked to the press.
The meeting happened before Williamson came in as defense secretary, but warnings have since been repeated, insisting they must get in line, follow orders and stop letting the public know about plans to cull their troops and resources, or there will be trouble.
Sources said the “chest-poking” was designed to end the details flooding to media outlets as the Government looks to cut £30 billion from the defense budget. Leaks include plans to scrap HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark and to cut the Royal Marines by 1,000 men and women. It is also alleged the UK may get rid of 28 Wildcat helicopters.
Williamson has only been in the job for a matter of weeks since taking over from Sir Michael Fallon, who resigned after the “dirty dossier” of MPs accused of inappropriate behaviour was leaked. He arrived in the job at a time when the Tory party is desperately trying to give the impression it is in control, while slashing vital forces and reducing troop numbers below 70,000, far less than the desired minimum of 82,000.
Fears are growing the Army, Navy and Royal Air Force (RAF) will have to compete against one another in order to avoid being hit hardest with the axe of austerity. There was even talk of the high-level Armed Forces Committee being culled. There is a growing threat of a backbench rebellion as a result. The bizarre appointment of “bully-boy” Williamson may be starting to make sense.
“There was too much stuff going around that could only have come from this small group of people,” a defense insider told Sky News. “[Leaks had] levels of detail and private conversations that shouldn’t have been made public.”
“No one is accusing the chiefs themselves of leaking but there are suggestions that some of the detail has found its way to the media via proxies.”
It is understood the dressing down meeting included commander of the Joint Forces Command General Sir Chris Deverell, First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Philip Jones, Chief of the Air Staff Air Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier and General Sir Nick Carter, head of the Army.
Sources said continued leaks will see the MoD address the way they operate with certain representatives. “Imagine what the national security adviser is making of all this?” one Sky source said.
“He must see a homogeneous bunch of public schoolboys just trying to get attention.
“This isn’t the way to fight our corner and make our case. Sedwill will be thinking, ‘What resonates with an ex-home secretary Prime Minister – more tanks to be possibly used in some far off World War III, or cyber, the threat of now and device of modern warfare?’”