September 25, 2023


Rishi Sunak’s judgement is under scrutiny after cabinet minister Sir Gavin Williamson quit vowing to clear his name over bullying claims.

Mr Sunak faces Prime Minister’s Questions where he is set to be grilled on what he knew about the allegations.

Sir Gavin is accused of abusive behaviour towards MPs and civil servants but denies any wrongdoing.

Labour said the PM, who promised a government of integrity, had shown “poor judgement” in appointing him.

Sir Gavin was appointed minister without portfolio after Mr Sunak, a political ally, won the Tory leadership and became prime minister just two weeks ago.

The BBC understands the pair met on Tuesday evening for their first detailed discussion about the allegations, after which Sir Gavin made the decision to resign.

In his resignation letter, the MP said claims about his conduct had become a “distraction” but defiantly vowed to “clear my name of any wrongdoing”.

In reply, Mr Sunak said he accepted the resignation “with great sadness” and thanked Sir Gavin for his “personal support and loyalty”.

Complaints against Sir Gavin first emerged when The Sunday Times published a series of expletive-laden texts he sent last month to then-chief whip Wendy Morton.

In the texts, he appears to complain about not having been invited to the Queen’s funeral, and seemingly accuses Ms Morton of “rigging” ticket allocations against MPs not “favoured” by then-prime minister Liz Truss.

He reportedly warned Ms Morton “not to push him about” and said that “there is a price for everything”.

On Tuesday, his former deputy, Anne Milton, also claimed he had behaved in a “threatening” and “intimidating” way towards MPs while serving as chief whip.

Ex-Conservative Party Chair Jake Berry has said he told Mr Sunak about Ms Morton’s complaint on 24 October, the day before Sir Gavin’s appointment.

No 10 has said the prime minister “knew there was a disagreement” but that he didn’t know the “substance” of the messages until they were published by the Sunday Times.

How Williamson saga unfolded

October 25: Mr Sunak becomes PM and appoints Sir Gavin to the cabinet as a minister without portfolio

November 5: Expletive-laden text messages sent by Sir Gavin to Ms Morton are published by the Sunday Times

November 6: Mr Sunak says the messages are “not acceptable” and acknowledges he is aware of a disagreement between Sir Gavin and Ms Morton

November 7: The PM says he will wait for the results of a complaints investigation into Sir Gavin “before making any decisions about the future”

Later, a Guardian story claims Sir Gavin told a senior civil servant to “slit your throat”, when he was defence secretary, something he denies

November 8: Sir Gavin’s texts to Ms Morton are referred to the ICGS, the parliamentary watchdog

Shortly after 20:00, Sir Gavin resigns claiming the allegations against him were becoming a distraction

There are still questions being asked about why Gavin Williamson was appointed in the first place.

Opposition parties argue the appointment showed the prime minister was weak and had to compromise the integrity he promised to try and unite his party with a diverse cabinet.

Number 10 disagrees. They say the details of allegations against Sir Gavin only became clear in recent days.

In comparison with some of the recent turmoil at Westminster, things have seemed a bit calmer since Rishi Sunak took over.

But there have been real tensions over Sir Gavin’s appointment and that of Suella Braverman. Some of those tensions have hints of factionalism; centrists who didn’t like Ms Braverman or Liz Truss allies who disliked Sir Gavin.

There are still unhappy Conservative MPs who have the ability to make life difficult for Number 10. Unity is normally easier talked about that achieved.

Sir Gavin has been reported to the MPs’ bullying watchdog, the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme, over his WhatsApp messages to Ms Morton.

The Guardian has reported that the civil servant from the Ministry of Defence has also lodged a complaint with the body.

Sir Gavin’s resignation marks the third time he has been forced from government. In 2019, he was sacked as defence secretary after allegedly leaking sensitive information related to Huawei’s potential involvement in the UK’s 5G network.

Later that year, he was made education secretary by Boris Johnson, but in 2021 was removed over his handling of A-level exams during the Covid-19 pandemic.

She said Sir Gavin should stand down as an MP if the bullying claims are proven.

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper questioned why Mr Sunak had stood by Sir Gavin, saying his “promise to lead a government of integrity has now been left in tatters”.

But defending Mr Sunak’s judgement, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said the prime minister was not aware of any specific allegations made against Sir Gavin.

She added that it was “always sad to lose a colleague, particularly in these kind of circumstances – these are people with families”.

In his resignation letter, Sir Gavin said he refuted the “characterisation” of the claims “about my past conduct” but felt they had become a “distraction from the good work the government is doing”.

He added that he had apologised to the recipient of the text messages and would comply with the complaints process.

He later tweeted that he would not be taking any severance pay, traditionally given to ministers when they leave office.

“Your commitment to successive Conservative governments and the party over the years has been unwavering,” Mr Sunak said in reply.

Mr Sunak is also facing pressure over why he reappointed Suella Braverman as home secretary just weeks after she was forced to resign for breaking ministerial rules by sending an official document to a fellow MP from her personal email.

Opposition figures have again accused him of keeping her in the cabinet as part of an agreement to ensure her support for his position as prime minister.

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