Minister admits she 'DOESN'T KNOW' if Gavin Williamson is 'racist'

Minister throws Gavin Williamson under the bus by saying she DOESN’T KNOW if he is ‘racist or incompetent’ as she’s quizzed over Education Secretary confusing Marcus Rashford and Maro Itoje

  • Helen Whately later said she thinks it is ‘unlikely’ the education secretary is racist
  • Her comments came as Mr Williamson broke cover in Westminster this morning
  • He was at Department for Education with hair slicked back and carrying a satchel
  • Williamson was again red faced after confusing Marcus Rashford for Maro Itoje

A minister has admitted she ‘doesn’t know’ if Gavin Williamson is ‘racist or incompetent’ after he confused Marcus Rashford for Maro Itoje.

Helen Whately later said she thinks it is ‘highly unlikely’ the education secretary is a racist following his mix up of the black footballer and rugby star.

Her comments came during a confused debate with LBC’s Nick Ferrari, where she accused the radio host of trying to ‘trap’ her into an answer.

It come as Mr Williamson broke cover for the first time since the blunder in a newspaper interview yesterday.

He was spotted at the Department for Education in Westminster with his hair slicked back and carrying a brown satchel this morning.

Mr Williamson landed himself in hot water yesterday after a the Evening Standard revealed he had mistaken Rashford for Itoje.

He said he had met Rashford via Zoom, but it later transpired it was rugby player Itoje he had spoken to.

In a statement yesterday, he said the ‘genuine mistake’ was due to both men having campaigned on children and said he had ‘huge respect’ for them.

But critics branded the mix-up ‘racist’ and pointed out the two have little in common aside from their ethnicity.

Some even claimed it was the ‘final nail in the coffin’ amid speculation Mr Williamson faces being replaced by Kemi Badenoch.

Helen Whately later said she thinks it is ‘highly unlikely’ the education secretary (pictured today) is a racist following his mix up of the black footballer and rugby star

He said he had met Rashford (right) via Zoom, but it later transpired it was rugby player Itoje (left) he had spoken to

Junior health minister Ms Whately was left to fight the flames for him during the morning rounds.

Asked on LBC whether Mr Williamson’s error was ‘through incompetence or racism’, she said: ‘Honestly, I don’t know.

‘All I know is that Gavin has put out his explanation, and there’s really nothing more that I could say about it.’

Asked whether it could, therefore, be racism, Ms Whately said: ‘I can’t believe for a moment that he is (racist). I think that sounds highly unlikely.

‘You’ve given me a false choice, you’re trying to put me in a trap to say it’s one thing or the other.’

She added: ‘I don’t accept the choice that you’ve offered me there; what I’ll say is Gavin has said what’s happened, there’s not a lot more I can say.’

Mr Williamson was stone-faced as he entered the Department For Education in Westminster this morning.

He looked at awaiting photographers but is not believed to have commented on the race row.

He later appeared via video for an address to the Universities UK annual conference despite reportedly being scheduled to be there in person.

Her comments came as Mr Williamson broke cover for the first time today (pictured) since the blunder in a newspaper interview yesterday

Asked on LBC whether Mr Williamson’s error was ‘through incompetence or racism’, she said: ‘Honestly, I don’t know’

Reacting to the story with a crying laughing emoji, Rashford tweeted: ‘Accent could have been a giveaway’

Itoje took to his social media page to clarify that he was not Rashford – nor was his name Mario

Gavin Williamson, the error-strewn minister previously sacked for leaking sensitive information 

Gavin Williamson mistaking rugby star Maro Itoje for footballer Marcus Rashford is just his latest gaffe to hit the headlines. 

In 2019, Williamson was sacked as Defence Secretary by then-Prime Minister Theresa May following an inquiry into a leak of information about Huawei’s involvement in the UK’s 5G network. 

The Daily Telegraph published a story about Huawei and 5G after a clandestine government meeting and Williamson was snared as the leaker shortly after he admitted to an 11-minute phone call with the journalist who broke the piece.

Williamson was forced to hand over his phone so that his calls, texts and emails could be analysed. He was also told to complete a questionnaire detailing his whereabouts in the hours following the NSC meeting.

Investigators then turned their focus on him and were so anxious to talk to him that one was sent later that day to interview him while he was reportedly on holiday with his wife Joanne and their two daughters in Perthshire, Scotland.

Every minister in the frame for the leak was interviewed, but it was eventually concluded that Williamson was the culprit and he was sacked by Mrs May.

It capped a bizarre tenure as Defence Secretary which saw Williamson also tell Russia to ‘shut up and go away’. 

Visitors also spotted a roll of toilet paper adorned with Vladimir Putin’s face in his MoD office. Under the president’s image, Russian letters spell out a highly offensive insult. 

He is also said to have asked military officials to ‘paintball ships trespassing in Gibraltar’s waters’ to humiliate the Spanish Navy and is reported to have asked if the ministry could buy tractors and ‘put really expensive guns on them’. 

After his sacking, Williamson was appointed Education Secretary by Boris Johnson just months later. 

However, he came under intense scrutiny following the government’s handling of GCSE and A-Level grades amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

After an algorithm saw grades plummet, Williamson was forced to rely on teacher-assessed grades instead.  

His gaffe took place in an interview with the Evening Standard, when interviewer Susannah Butter asked him if he had met Rashford.

He replied: ‘We met over Zoom and he seemed incredibly engaged, compassionate and charming but then he had to shoot off. I didn’t want to be the one that was holding him back from his training.’

But later, his team corrected his mistake, saying it was actually England and Lions rugby star Itoje he had met.

Both men have been campaigning for pupils recently – with Rashford forcing a government U-turn on extending free school meals into the holidays.

Itoje used his influence to help disadvantaged children get access to laptops during lockdown.

Mr Williamson clarified his comments, saying: ‘Towards the end of a wide-ranging interview in which I talked about both the laptops and school meals campaigns, I conflated the issues and made a genuine mistake.

‘We corrected this with the journalist before publication of the story. I have huge respect for both Marcus Rashford and Maro Itoje who run effective and inspiring campaigns.’

The two sportsmen appeared to see the funny side, with Manchester-born Rashford tweeting: ‘Accent could have been a giveaway’ with a laughing emoji.

Meanwhile Londoner Mr Itoje quipped: ‘Due to recent speculation I thought it was necessary to confirm that I am not Marcus Rashford.’

A spokesman for Mr Rashford confirmed the footballer had not met Mr Williamson on Zoom. They said: ‘Marcus’s consistent ask to those in power has been collaboration.

‘More often than not this ask is rebuffed. Maro and Marcus are two incredibly successful young black men, but there is little more they have in common.’

Mr Williamson’s gaffe comes amid mounting speculation Boris Johnson is preparing a reshuffle of his top team.

A Tory source played down the prospects of a snap reshuffle yesterday, but confirmed the PM is considering a shake-up ahead of the Party conference.

Sources say Mr Williamson may move from the Education Department to a lower profile job.

One Whitehall source said: ‘He has the reverse Midas touch – everything he touches turns to s***.’ Mr Williamson has a string of gaffes to his name.

In the same interview this week, Mr Williamson said of his portrait of the Queen: ‘I do think we could get a more flattering one.’

He then hastily added: ‘Obviously every picture of the Queen is absolutely stunning but I’ve seen better than that.’

Other gaffes include him telling Russia to ‘go away and shut up’ over the Salisbury attacks when he was Defence Secretary.

As Chief Whip, he warned unruly MPs that he took a ‘carrot and stick’ approach to discipline in the Commons.

Bizarrely, he added: ‘I don’t very much believe in the stick, but it’s amazing what can be achieved with a sharpened carrot.’

In 2018 he risked a diplomatic row with France over the Syria conflict, by saying: ‘What is the point in listening to French politicians?’

The same year he took the unusual step of confessing to cheating on his wife in 2004.

He admitted he kissed a colleague when he worked as a manager at fireplace but it ‘never went further’.

In May 2019 Theresa May sacked him as Defence Secretary over the leak of sensitive information about phone giant Huawei from the National Security Council – although he has always denied involvement.

The Prime Minister refused to rule out a reshuffle this week, but No 10 yesterday said there were ‘no plans’ for one.

But critics slammed Mr Williamson, suggesting he only confused Rashford and Itoje because of their ethnicity.

Shadow justice secretary David Lammy wrote on Twitter: ‘This is appalling. What was it about Maro Itoje that made you mistake him for Marcus Rashford?

‘You must be the most ignorant, clueless and incapable Education Secretary in the UK’s history.’

Liberal Democrat education spokesman Daisy Cooper said: ‘This must surely be the final nail in the coffin for Gavin Williamson.’

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said: ‘According to Gavin Williamson a black man from Wythenshawe [Manchester] who plays football for England looks the same as a black man from North London who plays rugby for England.

‘The fact that Gavin Williamson remains in his job is a daily reminder of how mediocre white men rise and rise.’

But during Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Mr Johnson defended Mr Williamson, saying he did a ‘heroic job’ when schools closed in the pandemic.

The Prime Minister’s press secretary later batted off speculation that Mr Williamson would be removed, saying there are no plans for a reshuffle.

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