Ever since Gavin Williamson was appointed Defence Secretary, there has been a briefing war between the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury over defence spending. Keen to prove his defence credentials, Williamson – or Private Pike as the Chancellor’s allies prefer to refer to him – has hardly discouraged backbench MPs from kicking up a fuss over planned cuts to his department.
With cost-cutting proposals for the military leaked – including plans to axe 11,000 Army troops and 2,000 Royal Marines – just days ago, this afternoon Williamson was summoned to the Commons to answer an urgent question from Julian Lewis on the reported plans in the review. With Williamson unable to discuss the contents of the review or its completion date, he was left saying he hoped it was wrapped up soon so he didn’t need to be so evasive going forward.
Happily, the Speaker was on hand to offer some friendly advice. John Bercow told Williamson that one way to stop such urgent questions is to stop leaks to the press:
‘I would just say to the Secretary of State that the appearance of briefings in the newspapers – which I’m certainly not suggesting hail from him – is something that greatly irritates members of the House.
And therefore it is very much to be hoped that before the conclusion of the review, there are no further such briefings for if there are I rather imagine I will be confronted with further requests for urgent questions and I will feel unable or in any case disinclined to resist.’
Happily, Bercow was keen to emphasise that he was ‘certainly not’ suggesting such briefings came from Williamson himself…