“Has anyone asked Guyana?” said civil servant after Gavin Williamson proposed military base there

Williamson announced policies in the press which caused alarm in government

Freedom of Information requests submitted by the Morning Star reveal civil servants’ confusion after Gavin Williamson proposed opening Caribbean military bases.

In an interview with the Telegraph on December 30, the Defence Secretary proposed opening military bases in Montserrat or Guyana.

The interview was widely mocked at the time by journalists and Labour MPs. Luke Pollard tweeted:

“Where is the budget for this? Why is our national military strategy being made up as we go along? Which budget will be cut to pay for these expansions?”

Journalists around the world agreed. A Washington Post writer said it was “utterly delusional and bizarre” and an Asia-based bureau chief said “Brits are masters at overestimating their global importance”.

The Morning Star revealed yesterday that these concerns and confusion were shared by civil servants who learned of the apparent plan in the press.

One civil servant emailled another:

“Great if someone wants to tell me about it or ask my views at any point…has anyone asked Guyana?…Both locations are a nightmare to get to and Guyana has interesting neighbours.”

Guyana is a small nation in the north-east of South America and shares a border with Venezuela. Montserrat is a Caribbean island.

Another civil servant was also surprised, in a seperate email chain, they wrote:

“This is the first we have heard on this and I’m certain it will generate significant interest in the region and with cross-Whitehall colleagues.”

“We will likely need to explain the provenance of the idea, what has been done thus far and what discussions (if any) have occurred and with who.”

UK representatives in the Carribean were also blindsided by the news, according to a civil servant who emailled:

“My [High Commisioners] in Jamaica (regional lead) and Guyana, plus Govr Montserrat are all concerned about this and would appreciate LTT”.

After a lot of confusion, civil servants established that Williamson had been mistaken. In an email to colleaguese, one said:

“Our focus is on developing our footprint in Belize, not Guyana or Montserrat.”

One civil servant indicated that this was not the only policy they had learned about through the press. They said:

“Luckily I subscribe to the Telegraph as so far this year it has enlightened me about Commonwealth recruiting, funding for Commonwealth veterans, and now these new bases.”

Gavin Williamson has been accused of immaturity and recklessness since he landed the Defence Secretary job.

He was widely mocked for telling Russia to “go away and shut up” and then for a speech calling for the Navy to be capable of a “reign of terror”.

According to BuzzFeed news, his Ministry of Defence colleagues are also critical of him. One former adviser reportedly said:

“The shooting from the hip and choice of words has raised a few eyebrows because it’s not particularly statesmanlike.

There is a tendency for some who arrive in the department to want to play with the toys and grandstand, which is something to be avoided – it’s not great. The language has been a little bit alarming to those in the services.”

Joe Lo is a freelance journalist and a reporter for Left Foot Forward

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