Downing Street has acknowledged former education secretary Gavin Williamson’s knighthood is hard to justify and appears ‘corrupt’ amid fury over the honour.
It was announced on Thursday afternoon that the Queen has conferred the honour on the Tory MP, who has twice been sacked from the Government.
Although Downing Street has told ministers to defend the honour publicly, some No 10 officials are understood to have said it is difficult to justify the decision.
One Downing Street source told The Times that it was ‘corrupt’, while another government source said there is no way Williamson will be brought back into government.
Speaking of the honour, one source added: ‘It might be a way of making sure he stays onside, but his influence with colleagues is not what it was.’
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’.
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.
But No 10 on Thursday 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.
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.’
Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman Munira Wilson said: ‘The only award Gavin Williamson should be given is the one for worst education secretary in history.
‘He failed to get laptops to children who needed them, sleepwalked into the exam crisis and caused chaos for parents and teachers over getting children back to school.
‘People across the country will be outraged at this reward for his abysmal failures.
Williamson’s timeline of catastrophe in office
‘It is an insult to every child, parent and teacher who struggled through Covid against the odds. It shows this government only cares about those at the top.’
Former government advisor Sam Freedman slammed Mr Williamson as ‘the worst secretary of state’ that he has worked with in 20 years.
On Thursday, comedian David Baddiel responded to the news by quipping that he was worried the Queen may die ‘from laughing’ at having to say ‘arise Sir Gavin Williamson’.
Mr Williamson was appointed Education Secretary after Boris Johnson’s election as Prime Minister in July 2019.
The following year he came under repeated pressure to resign over the fiasco around grading of GCSE and A-level students amid cancelled exams.
He also he faced further ridicule after he said online he had met England footballer Marcus Rashford – who led a campaign for free school meals – when he had instead talked to England rugby player Maro Itoje.
After closing schools in March 2020 because of Covid, and then cancelling that year’s GCSEs and A-Levels, he faced calls to resign – and was likened to accident-prone British TV character Frank Spencer – after the Government was forced into a U-turn following protests over the downgrading of thousands of results.
He also received criticism over the recovery plan to help pupils catch up and confusion around children returning to class amid Covid-19.
Before his tenure at the Department for Education, Mr Williamson became known for a tendency to put his foot in his mouth as defence secretary.
He was sacked from that job in May 2019 following an inquiry into the leak of information from a National Security Council meeting about Chinese telecoms firm Huawei’s involvement in the UK’s 5G mobile network.
Mr Williamson denied being the source of the leak.
He was also given the nickname ‘Private Pike’ by critics who compare him to the hapless young soldier in Dad’s Army.
Former shadow schools minister Wes Streeting said Gavin 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’.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: ‘School and college leaders will be surprised to learn that Gavin Williamson has been given a knighthood.
‘The challenges of the pandemic and the implications for education would have been challenging for any education secretary, and this needs to be recognised.
‘But the experience of schools and colleges of Mr Williamson during his tenure as education secretary was one of endless muddle, inevitable U-turns, and even threats of legal action to override local decisions.
‘This was not all Mr Williamson’s fault. The hand of Downing Street was detectable amidst the chaos too.
‘However, many parents will share our surprise that his record in this role warrants the conferring of a knighthood.’