Gavin Williamson to become a sir after Queen approves knighthood

Gavin Williamson, former education secretary, pictured in his office with a whip on his desk. Credit: PA

Former education secretary Gavin Williamson - who was widely criticised for his handling of England's schools and exams during the coronavirus pandemic - will soon become a sir after the Queen approved his knighthood.

A statement from No 10 read: "The Queen has been pleased to approve that the honour of Knighthood be conferred upon The Rt Hon Gavin Williamson CBE MP."

Mr Williamson, the Conservative MP for South Staffordshire, was defence secretary before being sacked by Theresa May, following an inquiry into a leak from the National Security Council.

He was brought back into Cabinet by Boris Johnson, who made him head of the education department, where he presided over several fiascoes during various Covid lockdowns.

He was first criticised for his position rejecting free school meal provision during half term holidays at the start of the pandemic before the exams grading scandal which saw thousands of children given low A-level scores before the government U-turned.

Former shadow schools minister Wes Streeting said Mr Williamson's knighthood was a "reward for failure".

Mr Streeting, who is now Labour's shadow health secretary, said on Twitter that the decision was "shameless".

Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi said presumably the knighthood is "for services to failure in managing two sets of exam results?"

The 45-year-old MP is a former Tory chief whip who many claimed had remained in government for so long, despite various mishaps, because he "knows where the bodies are".

Mr Williamson also ran Prime Minister Johnson's 2019 leadership campaign.

He was eventually sacked by Prime Minister Johnson in September last year and replaced with former vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi.

Number 10, asked why the knighthood was being announced now and not part of an honours list, said it was a political appointment by the Conservative Party.

It was understood the knighthood was being given to Gavin Williamson on the basis of his political and public service.

As chief whip under Mrs May, Mr Williamson became known for keeping a tarantula in his office, a move many said was designed to scare his Conservative colleague.

And as education secretary he was famously photographed in his ministerial office with a whip positioned in front of him on his desk.

The former minister also came under fire after it emerged a party was held in the education department during a lockdown when such events were banned.

He gave a short speech before officials and ministers enjoyed “drinks and canapes” at the evening event on December 10, the Department for Education said.

His successor Mr Zahawi - who did not attend the party - said it was a "mistake" and an "error of judgment".

Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson said the knighthood shows "utter contempt for the challenges children and education staff have faced during the pandemic".

“Gavin Williamson left children to go hungry, created two years of complete chaos over exams and failed to get laptops out to kids struggling to learn during lockdowns. His record is astonishing and disgraceful.

“Boris Johnson is proving again it’s one rule for him and his mates and another for the rest of us."