Gavin Williamson's Biggest Gaffes As Ex-Tory Minister Awarded A Knighthood

Arise, the twice-sacked cabinet minister who oversaw exams chaos.
<strong>Photo of Gavin Williamson taken in his office after he announced a major reversal on A-level and GCSE grades.</strong>
Photo of Gavin Williamson taken in his office after he announced a major reversal on A-level and GCSE grades.
Stefan Rousseau via PA Wire/PA Images

There was disbelief on social media as Gavin Williamson – the twice-sacked minister who oversaw an exams fiasco – was handed a knighthood by Boris Johnson.

Downing Street said on Thursday the Tory MP, who was widely criticised for his handling of schools as education secretary during the coronavirus pandemic, would be conferred the honour by the Queen.

It is understood the 45-year-old has been ennobled on the basis of his political and public service.

The former fireplace manufacturing firm managing director – who, as a Tory party enforcer, kept a pet tarantula named Cronus in a glass box on his desk – has a dubious track record in the upper echelons of politics.

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.

Williamson was rewarded with the role as education secretary by Johnson despite being sacked as defence secretary by Theresa May. It is worth noting he helped run Johnson’s successful 2019 campaign to become Tory leader.

The firing from defence 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. Williamson denied being the source of the leak, despite having an 11-minute conversation with a journalist that broke the story.

Away from policy errors, Williamson is perhaps best-known in British politics for his habit of making a gaffe. Here are some of his biggest:

Humiliating Marcus Rashford Mix-Up

In September, Williamson confused footballer Marcus Rashford with another sports star.

The education secretary told the Evening Standard that he had met Rashford, a prominent campaigner for free school meals, while it was later revealed he had actually met rugby union player, Maro Itoje. Both men are Black.

Referencing his Mancunian origins and Itoje’s London upbringing, Rashford later tweeted: “Accent could have been a giveaway [emoji].”

‘Forgets’ His A-Level Results

Last year, Williamson said he did not remember what A-Level grades he received – despite remembering opening the envelope.

In an interview on LBC, the education secretary said his results allowed him to go to Bradford University.

“For a lad growing up in Scarborough, Bradford was the most exotic and exciting place in the whole world,” he said.

“I remember walking up to those college doors, going into my college at sixth form, getting the envelope, opening up that envelope, seeing the grades on there and feeling absolute delight.”

But pressed on what his results were, Williamson said: “I’ve forgotten, it was so long ago.”

Williamson was only able to reveal he did not get three A*s.

‘Russia Should Go Away And Shut Up’

In the wake of the poisoning of Sergei Skripal in 2018, Williamson gave his assessment of UK-Russian relations after the Sailsbury nerve agent attack.

Blaming Russia for the incident, he said: “It is absolutely atrocious and outrageous what Russia did in Salisbury. We have responded to that.

“Frankly, Russia should go away and should shut up.”

The tenor of his warning clearly had little effect.

‘Do As I Say, Not As I Do’ Warning To Teachers

Days after his Rashford gaffe, Williamson urged teachers to return to in-person teaching – during a virtual appearance at a conference.

The Times’ Nicola Woolcock tweeted: “Gavin Williamson doesn’t turn up in person to Universities UK conference in Newcastle – but uses his videolink speech to warn universities to get back to in person teaching...”

Taking To The ’Gram In Parliament

Williamson was told off by parliamentary authorities after using Instagram in the House of Commons.

Then defence secretary, he posted a photo from the government frontbench of the prime minister delivering a statement on Brexit.

It was captioned: “The @theresamay making her statement to the House of Commons.”

Admittedly, it was more drab than his usual content, which has a distinct weekend warrior energy.

A Commons spokesperson said: “Where [photography] is seen or reported to be happening the individual in question will be asked to stop and reminded of the rules.”

Heckled By His Phone

In 2018, Williamson was attempting to deliver a speech on Isis in the Middle East when a voice coming from his jacket pocket interrupted proceedings.

In what the Mirror suggested was probably the first speech to parliament by an artificial intelligence assistant, Siri could be heard saying: “Hi Gavin, I found something on the web for: ‘In Syria, democratic forces supported by…’”

Williamson told MPs: “I’m not sure what caused that intervention, but I do apologise for that.

“It is very rare that you’re heckled by your own mobile phone, but on this occasion it is a new parliamentary convention, without a doubt.”

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