Gavin Williamson texts ‘raise very serious questions’ says expert
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Sir Gavin Williamson’s resignation from office “raises very serious questions” about the sustainability of Conservative Government after 12 years in power, a political commentator has claimed. Nicholas Watt, BBC Newsnight’s political editor, said he wondered if there was “too much feuding and animosity” within the party, suggesting that the complaint by former chief whip Wendy Morton and confirmation of the issue by former chairman of the party Jake Berry showed the extent of infighting. Sir Gavin stepped down after allegations he sent expletive-laden messages to Ms Morton complaining about being refused an invitation to the Queen’s funeral. He was also the subject of claims he bullied a former official at the Ministry of Defence and engaged in “unethical and immoral” behaviour while he was chief whip, concerns that were raised to the new Prime Minister before his appointment.
Mr Watt said: “It obviously does raise very serious questions [about the Conservative Party]. They have been in power for 12 years. Are there too many feuds to mean that they can be sustainable as a Government?
“It is a very, very big thing for a former chief whip to make a complaint like that. It is a very, very big thing for a former chairman of the Conservative Party to confirm, as Jake Berry did.
“You just do wonder whether there is too much feuding, too much animosity, for them to be able to sustain this. They have been in power for 12 years.
“But, I mean, Gavin Williamson is a hugely controversial figure. He has a coterie of Conservative MPs who are devoted to him and he has this way of having a magical spell over prime ministers, though it usually ends in tears, but the vast bulk of Tory MPs do not like him.
“Just to give you an idea: I was talking to somebody who worked in the whip’s office under him. You may remember that Mr Williamson has a pet tarantula. They said there was a group of whips that so disliked him they had a discussion about whether they could come in early one morning, release the pet tarantula and stamp it to death.”
Pressure on Sir Gavin – and questions about Mr Sunak’s decision-making – began with the publication of messages he sent Ms Morton, and the revelation that the Prime Minister was informed of a complaint against him when he appointed his Cabinet.
As well as the internal Tory investigation, Ms Morton is also understood to have referred the case to Parliament’s bullying process.
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.
Downing Street 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 on the weekend.
In the original series of texts, littered 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.”
Another complaint to Parliament’s Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS) has reportedly been made by a former senior official who worked with Sir Gavin when he was at the Ministry of Defence.
He is alleged to have told the official to “slit your throat” and on a separate occasion told them to “jump out of the window”, according to a Guardian report.
On Tuesday night, former deputy chief whip Anne Milton alleged Sir Gavin used intimidatory and threatening tactics while he was chief whip in 2016-17.
She accused him of seeking to use an MP’s financial situation as leverage against them and sending an expletive-laden email about a female civil servant. Ms Milton described his behaviour as “unethical and immoral” and told Channel 4: “I think he feels that he’s Francis Urquhart from House Of Cards.”
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The Prime Minister will appear in the Commons to face MPs following the loss of his ally, who stood down after accepting that allegations about his conduct had become “a distraction”.
At Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Sunak could face pressure to explain why he gave Sir Gavin – who had already been sacked by Theresa May and Boris Johnson – a senior ministerial role despite being aware that he faced an investigation in relation to his behaviour.
Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner suggested Sir Gavin should quit as an MP if he is found to have bullied colleagues or officials. “There’s no place for bullies in Parliament,” she told BBC’s Newsnight.
She said Mr Sunak appointed Sir Gavin “with full knowledge of serious allegations about his conduct and repeatedly expressed confidence in him”, adding that: “This is yet another example of Rishi Sunak’s poor judgment and weak leadership.”
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