Sir Gavin Williamson resigns from his role as Cabinet Office minister amid ‘bullying’ accusations
Gavin Williamson was dramatically forced to quit Cabinet tonight admitting that a slew of bullying accusations had become a ‘distraction’ for the Government.
Following another frantic day of claims about his behaviour – including that he told a senior civil servant to ‘slit your throat’ – Sir Gavin announced he was resigning.
The move comes after Downing Street’s support appeared to drain away from the Cabinet Office minister, as he faced the threat of three conduct probes.
Before lunchtime the PM’s spokesman was still voicing ‘confidence’ in Sir Gavin and stressing his contribution to government. But by 4pm No10 was making clear that Mr Sunak might not wait for the outcome of investigations to act.
It is the third time he has been ousted from Cabinet, after being sacked as Defence Secretary by Theresa May and Education Secretary by Boris Johnson.
The departure will raise fresh questions about Rishi Sunak’s judgment after he brought Sir Gavin back to the top table, despite knowing about his dispute with former chief whip Wendy Morton over foul-mouthed text messages concerning invites to the Queen’s funeral.
The stage is now set for a gruelling PMQs session tomorrow, although No10 will hope that Sir Gaving falling on his sword will make it less damaging.
Mr Sunak pledged a new era of ‘integrity’ in government when he took over from Liz Truss, but has immediately been embroiled in rows over reappointing Suella Braverman as Home Secretary and then drafting in Sir Gavin.
Sir Gavin said in his resignation letter that he was determined to clear his name of wrongdoing.
Responding, Mr Sunak wrote that he was accepting ‘with great sadness’. ‘I would like to thank you for your personal support and loyalty,’ he added.
Gavin Williamson has quit the cabinet saying that he wants to ‘comply fully’ with the complaints process and clear his name following bullying allegations
Sir Gavin’s letter of resignation sent to Mr Sunak tonight, saying he recognised the allegations were becoming a ‘distraction’
Responding, Mr Sunak wrote that he was accepting ‘with great sadness’. ‘I would like to thank you for your personal support and loyalty,’ he added
In his resignation letter, Sir Gavin wrote: ‘As you know, there is an ongoing complaints process concerning text messages I sent to a colleague. I am complying with this process and have apologised to the recipient for those messages.
‘Since then, there have been other allegations made about my past conduct. I refute the characterisation of these claims, but I recognise these are becoming a distraction for the good work this government is doing for the British people.
‘I have therefore decided to step back from government so that I can comply fully with the complaints process that is underway and clear my name of any wrongdoing.
‘It is with real sadness that I tender my resignation, but I want to take this opportunity to offer my full and total support from the back benches. I am incredibly proud to have worked with you in government over the last few years and during the campaign.’
No 10 said earlier that Mr Sunak still maintained confidence in his ally, but indicated the Prime Minister would act if necessary.
But the PM’s spokesman confirmed a fact-finding exercise was being carried out into the claims, while the Tory party and Parliament’s bullying watchdog are looking into allegations made by former chief whip Wendy Morton.
Pressure mounted on Sir Gavin as his former deputy Anne Milton alleged he used intimidatory and threatening tactics while he was chief whip.
The Tory party and Parliament’s bullying watchdog are looking into allegations made by former chief whip Wendy Morton (pictured)
In the latest disclosures, Ms Milton accused Sir Gavin of seeking to use an MP’s financial difficulties as leverage against them and sending an expletive-laden email about a female civil servant.
Ms Milton, who was deputy chief whip from May 2015 to June 2017, described his behaviour as ‘unethical and immoral’, claiming: ‘I think he feels that he’s Francis Urquhart from House Of Cards.’
Ms Milton, who was stripped of the Tory whip during the Brexit rows in 2019 and subsequently lost her seat, told Channel 4 News: ‘
‘I got the impression that he loved salacious gossip and would use it as leverage against MPs if the need arose.’
Asked if any particular incidents stood out from her time working under Sir Gavin, she added: ‘There were a few – the salacious gossip, which I’ve talked about, people’s sexual preferences, that sort of thing.
‘He loved all that. He would come into the office and say: ‘Guess who enjoys some form of sex or another’.
‘I found it very distasteful apart from anything. He also, on one occasion, we had an MP who’d got a few financial problems, some financial help was given.
‘It wasn’t a great amount, but I do remember him asking me to give the MP in question the cheque.
‘And he waved it under my nose and said: ‘Make sure when you give him this cheque he knows that I now own him’.
‘I’m sure if you ask Gavin Williamson about this, he will say it was a joke. I don’t think it was a joke.’
Ms Milton also recalled an email sent by Sir Gavin in 2016 in response to a female civil servant’s inquiry about why a minister had to change travel plans to attend a vote.
‘Always tell them to f*** off and if they have the bollocks to come and see me. F****** jumped up civil servants,’ she claimed he sent to her in reply.
She questioned Mr Sunak’s decision to give Sir Gavin a ministerial job, saying: ‘I think (at) best it was probably a bit naive. I don’t know that there are many people that would hang out the bunting to see Gavin Williamson back in government.’
Ms Milton was Conservative MP for Guildford between 2005 and 2019 but lost the Tory whip towards the end of her time in Parliament during the bitter Brexit battles in the House of Commons.
Ex-Conservative MP Anne Milton, who worked alongside Sir Gavin for almost a year in the Tory whips’ office between 2016 and 2017, claimed the 46-year-old ‘loved salacious gossip’ including about people’s ‘sexual preferences’
She subsequently stood as an independent candidate at the 2019 general election, but failed to hold onto her Surrey seat.
The claims by Ms Milton followed allegations that Sir Gavin clashed with a civil servant while he was defence secretary.
Sir Gavin denied the official’s allegation of a campaign of bullying but did not deny making the remarks, including telling the civil servant to ‘jump out of the window’.
The Guardian, which first reported the allegations, said a complaint had now gone to the ICGS.
In a statement, the complainant said they had an ‘incredibly difficult period’ working for Sir Gavin at the MoD and that the alleged bullying had had ‘an extreme impact’ on their mental health.
Sir Gavin has also been hit by a row over the expletive-laden text messages he sent to fellow MP Ms Morton after he was excluded from the Queen’s funeral.
Downing Street is understood to be undertaking a fact-finding exercise and considering how to respond to the allegations.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘Those are serious allegations that have come in.’
In a statement following the Guardian report, Sir Gavin said: ‘I strongly reject this allegation and have enjoyed good working relationships with the many brilliant officials I have worked with across Government.’
It is understood that former chief whip Ms Morton has referred her complaint to Parliament’s bullying watchdog, while an internal Tory party inquiry is ongoing.
Mr Sunak’s spokesman previously indicated he would not feel the need to wait until the resolution of existing investigations to act if the circumstances demanded it.
‘Obviously he would act if and when he felt it was appropriate to do so,’ the spokesman said.
Sir Gavin’s newly-revealed ministerial responsibilities include the Geospatial Commission, the Government Communications Service and the ‘Great Campaign’ to promote the UK.
‘After a week of appalling allegations about intimidatory behaviour towards colleagues, the Prime Minister has rewarded Williamson by giving him authority over huge swathes of the civil service,’ deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said.
The Prime Minister has been coming under sustained pressure over his decision to bring his ally back into Government despite knowing about the complaint made by Ms Morton.
The Times, which first disclosed that she has referred her complaint to Parliament’s Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme, said she made the move over fears of a ‘whitewash’ by the Conservative Party.
In a series of texts peppered with swear words, Sir Gavin accused Ms Morton of seeking to ‘punish’ MPs out of favour with then-premier Liz Truss by excluding them from the Queen’s funeral, warning: ‘There is a price for everything.’
The Liberal Democrats demanded an independent inquiry into Sir Gavin’s conduct so the Tories do not ‘mark their own homework’.
Sir Gavin, who was knighted after being nominated for the honour by Boris Johnson earlier this year, is a divisive figure at Westminster, where he is viewed with suspicion by many Tory MPs because of his reputation as an inveterate plotter.
He was sacked first by former PM Theresa May as defence secretary in 2019 for leaking details of a National Security Council meeting, and then by Mr Johnson as education secretary over the Covid-19 A-levels debacle.
However, he was regarded as a key figure in Mr Sunak’s campaign over the summer to become party leader.