Nadhim Zahawi has defended the awarding of a knighthood to Sir Gavin Williamson despite him being twice sacked as a cabinet minister and overseeing the Covid exams result fiasco in 2020.
The Education Secretary said said his predecessor ‘deserves’ the prestigious honour for his work on skills and new technical qualifications called T-levels – aimed at training workers in skills wanted by employers – which feature in the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill that has yet to clear Parliament.
Mr Zahawi added that when he served as minister for children and families under Theresa May‘s government, ‘skills was considered the Cinderella part of the department’.
The proposed bill was tabled during Sir Williamson’s tenure although it began its parliamentary journey in the House of Lords and arrived in the House of Commons after he had been given the boot.
The legislation comes back before MPs on Monday after peers defied the Government by pressing their demand that funding for Btec qualifications continues for up to four years under the shake-up of post-16 training.
The defeat came despite a concession by the Government that it would delay the defunding of most Btecs and other applied general qualifications by a year until 2024.
There has been cross-party concern that the vast majority of Btec vocational qualifications will be swept away in the overhaul.
Nadhim Zahawi has defended the awarding of a knighthood to Sir Gavin Williamson who has twice been sacked as a cabinet minister and oversaw the exam result fiasco in 2020
Mr Zahawi told Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme: ‘I’m going to say something to you which isn’t universally popular, I know, but being in a department, and you see this on my lapel here, it’s T-Levels, the Skills White Paper and the Skills Bill which is about to receive royal assent was Gavin Williamson’s work.
‘When I was in the department under Theresa May, skills was considered the Cinderella part of the department.
‘Gavin Williamson’s work on skills, T-Levels, the lifelong learning entitlement will transform the fortunes of young people in our country who may not want to go to university. For that alone I think he deserves that knighthood.’
It is understood that Mr Williamson’s knighthood was set to be part of the New Year’s honours list but was delayed while Sue Gray investigated a 2020 Christmas party in the Department of Education.
But in January, the Metropolitan Police decided not to investigate the event, paving the way for Mr Williamson’s honour.
Mr Williamson, who ran Boris Johnson’s Tory leadership campaign in 2019, was axed last September in a Cabinet reshuffle.
He had faced repeated criticism and calls to resign after overseeing months of Covid schools chaos and the exam result fiasco in 2020.
When his removal was confirmed, Labour’s Angela Rayner described him as a ‘prat’.
The Education Secretary said said his predecessor Sir Gavin Williamson (pictured) ‘deserves’ the prestigious honour for his work on skills and new technical qualifications called T-levels – aimed at training workers in skills wanted by employers, and the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, which has yet to clear Parliament
He had previously been sacked as defence secretary by Theresa May after being blamed for leaks of top secret information on China from national security briefings.
While in that post he attracted ridicule for telling Russia to ‘go away’ and shut up’ at the height of the Salisbury poisoning.
Mr Zahawi declined to criticise Sir Gavin for cancelling exams during the pandemic, saying he had ‘very little choice’.
But Mr Zahawi said: ‘The closure of schools, when I reflect on that, was a mistake and I’m on the record as saying that, and I will do everything in my power never again to close schools, and the Prime Minister absolutely agrees with me.’
Earlier this month, No 10 said: ‘The Queen has been pleased to approve that the honour of Knighthood be conferred upon The Rt Hon Gavin Williamson CBE MP.’
Asked why the knighthood was being announced now and not part of an honours list, Downing Street said it was a political appointment by the Conservative Party.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson replaced Mr Williamson with the former vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi in a Cabinet reshuffle
Before his sacking, he reportedly told allies he ‘knows where the bodies are’.
His honour has prompted fury, with education unions saying parents would be baffled by his recognition.
Former head teacher Tom Sherrington said Mr Williamson’s knighthood ‘demeans’ the entire honours system.
Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said: ‘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.
‘This shows utter contempt for the challenges children and education staff have faced during the pandemic.’