Rishi Sunak has ‘full confidence’ in Sir Gavin Williamson, Number 10 says – despite bullying allegation | Politics News


Rishi Sunak has “full confidence” in Sir Gavin Williamson, Downing Street has said – despite the Cabinet Office minister facing an allegation of bullying.

Sir Gavin allegedly sent abusive text messages to ex-chief whip Wendy Morton complaining that he and other colleagues had been excluded from the Queen’s funeral for political reasons.

But the prime minister’s official spokesman said Mr Sunak welcomes that Sir Gavin “expressed regret” about the messages sent to his colleague.

He added that the PM has a zero tolerance approach to bullying inside government.

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Asked if the PM has full confidence in former defence secretary Sir Gavin, the spokesman replied: “Yes.”

Pressed on why Sir Gavin is still in post if Mr Sunak views the texts he sent as unacceptable, he continued: “Well, as you know, there is a process going on. I think, obviously, that’s run by the Conservative Party. So, it’s not one for me.

“I think the prime minister has said that it’s right to let that process happen and he welcomes that Gavin Williamson has expressed regret about those comments, which as you say he doesn’t think are acceptable.”

The spokesman added that Mr Sunak believes Sir Gavin has an “important contribution” to make to government.

Mr Sunak is under pressure over bringing Sir Gavin back into the government.

The PM’s official spokesman said at the time Mr Sunak “knew there was a disagreement”, but was not aware of the “substance” of the messages.

Clarifying this on Sunday, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Oliver Dowden told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme that the PM knew there was a “difficult relationship” between Sir Gavin and the-then chief whip, but “wasn’t aware” of “specific allegations” until Saturday evening.

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Williamson ‘shouldn’t have sent’ texts

Mr Dowden added that Sir Gavin “regrets the language he used” and also suggested that a number of individuals had “a difficult relationship” with Ms Morton.

“These were sent in the heat of the moment expressing frustration. It was a difficult time for the party. He now accepts that he shouldn’t have done it and he regrets doing so. Thankfully, we are in a better place now as a party,” he said.

But Labour has called for an “urgent independent investigation” into the appointment of Sir Gavin, with shadow climate secretary Ed Miliband warning against a “cover-up” over the allegations.

Speaking on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme, Mr Miliband said the matter “really calls into question Rishi Sunak’s judgement and the way he made decisions about his cabinet”, adding Sir Gavin’s reappointment was “not in the public interest”.

“There needs to be an urgent independent investigation into exactly what happened. We can’t have a cover-up, we can’t have a whitewash here,” he said.

“What did Rishi Sunak know? When did he know it? What did Gavin Williamson do and what are the implications of that?”

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Miliband calls for bullying review

While Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said Sir Gavin is “clearly not suitable” for the job, calling his appointment a sign of how “weak” Rishi Sunak is.

“I think that the prime minister has got people who are clearly not fit for the job around the cabinet table,” he told reporters.

Screenshots leaked to The Sunday Times appear to show expletive-laden messages from the South Staffordshire MP, including a warning that “there is a price for everything”.

Another message reads “think very poor how [Privy Councillors] who aren’t favoured have been excluded from the funeral”.

A source confirmed to Sky News that the contents of the messages were accurate.

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Williamson feeling the heat over allegations

Former chairman of the Conservative Party, Sir Jake Berry, has said he told Mr Sunak a bullying complaint had been made against Sir Gavin a day before he entered Number 10.

Sir Gavin has been approached for comment.

The Sunday Times quoted the Cabinet Office minister as saying: “I of course regret getting frustrated about the way colleagues and I felt we were being treated. I am happy to speak with Wendy and I hope to work positively with her in the future as I have in the past.”

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper accused Mr Sunak of ignoring the complaint and called for Sir Gavin to be sacked.

At the weekend, a Tory party spokesman said: “The Conservative Party has a robust complaints process in place. This process is rightly a confidential one, so that complainants can come forward in confidence.”

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Reshuffle: Who’s in, who’s out?

Sir Gavin was sacked as defence secretary in 2019 following the leaking of confidential information from the National Security Council.

After being appointed education secretary by Boris Johnson, he was dismissed from cabinet again in 2021 following controversy around the grading of exams during the pandemic.

It marks the second major controversy to erupt over Mr Sunak’s cabinet appointments, with the PM already under fire for making Suella Braverman his home secretary days after she was sacked for security breaches.


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