Belfast Telegraph

Sacked defence boss Gavin Williamson tipped to take over as Northern Ireland Secretary

Gavin Williamson
Gavin Williamson
Political commentator Simon Heffer

By Staff Reporter

Former defence secretary Gavin Williamson - one of the top Conservatives who negotiated the party's pact with the DUP in 2017 - is being tipped to become Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in the event of Boris Johnson becoming the next Prime Minister.

Mr Williamson - who turns 43 this week - was a member of the NI Affairs Select Committee for just over a year, and is considered close to the DUP, whose support the Conservative Party needs to sustain a majority in the House of Commons.

If the speculation - fuelled by an analysis by leading political commentator Simon Heffer in the New Statesman current affairs magazine - proves correct, he would replace his neighbouring Staffordshire MP Karen Bradley in the high-profile Stormont role.

Mr Williamson served as Defence Secretary from 2017 to 2019, when he was sacked from the Cabinet post amid claims he was responsible for leaking information from the UK's National Security Council.

He has consistently denied the allegations.

The former Conservative chief whip has been an MP since 2010.

Writing in the current issue of the New Statesman, Mr Heffer says: "Williamson is apparently on good terms with the DUP - who will be even more essential to (Boris) Johnson if he wins than they were to May - and colleagues think he should prepare himself for a spell as Northern Ireland secretary.

"Wherever he lands, his actions set the tone for an administration likely to be nasty, brutish and quite possibly short."

In March this year, Mr Williamson sparked controversy in Northern Ireland after the Public Prosecution Service's decision to prosecute Soldier F for murder on Bloody Sunday.

Announcing that the MoD would fund Soldier F's legal costs and provide welfare support, Mr Williamson said: "The Ministry of Defence is working across Government to drive through a new package of safeguards to ensure our Armed Forces are not unfairly treated.

"And the Government will urgently reform the system for dealing with legacy issues.

"Our serving and former personnel cannot live in constant fear of prosecution."

Solicitors for one of the Bloody Sunday families then contacted the Attorney General for Northern Ireland claiming Mr Williamson could have jeopardised the chances of a fair trial of a soldier due to be charged with murder.

Amnesty International described the Defence Secretary's remarks as "disrespectful".

Also in March, Mr Williamson announced a Defence Technology Exploitation Programme for Northern Ireland, which aims to increase the defence sector's contribution to economic growth in the UK.

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