Rishi Sunak has said it is “absolutely right” that Sir Gavin Williamson resigned and admitted he has “regret” over appointing him as a cabinet minister in light of the allegations he is facing.
The prime minister insisted he “did not know about any of the specific concerns” relating to Sir Gavin’s alleged “unacceptable” behaviour in his former positions.
His comments came after Sir Keir Starmer probed the prime minister on the allegation that Sir Gavin told a civil servant to slit their throat.
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“How does the prime minister think the victim of that bullying felt when he expressed great sadness at his resignation?” the Labour leader asked.
Mr Sunak replied: “Unequivocally, the behaviour complained of was unacceptable and it is absolutely right, it is absolutely right, that the right honourable gentleman has resigned.
“For the record, I did not know about any of the specific concerns relating to his conduct as secretary of state or chief whip, which date back some years.
“I believe that people in public life should treat others with consideration and respect, and those are the principles that this government will stand by.”
Sir Keir later referred to Sir Gavin as “a sad middle manager getting off on intimidating those beneath him” and a “cartoon bully with a pet spider”.
Calling the prime minister “so weak” for not removing Sir Gavin from his post, the Labour leader continued: “What message does he think it sends when rather than take on the bullies, he lines up alongside and thanks them for their loyalty?” Sir Keir said.
Mr Sunak replied: “I obviously regret appointing someone who has had to resign in these circumstances but I think what the British people would like to know is that when situations like this arise that they will be dealt with properly.
“And that’s why it is absolutely right that he resigned and it’s why it is absolutely right that there is an investigation to look into these matters properly. I said my government will be characterised by integrity, professionalism, and accountability and it will.”
‘Do you regret appointing Gavin Williamson?’
Sir Gavin’s departure on Tuesday evening came shortly after an ex-civil servant – who claimed the MP told them to “slit your throat” – made a formal complaint.
A Number 10 source told Sky News it was Sir Gavin’s decision to resign following further allegations being made against him.
He is understood to have spoken to the PM in the early evening to offer his resignation.
In his resignation letter, the former cabinet minister vowed to clear his name of wrongdoing – and said he “refutes the characterisation of these claims”.
“I recognise these are becoming a distraction for the good work this government is doing,” Sir Gavin wrote to Mr Sunak.
Accepting the resignation “with great sadness”, Mr Sunak told Sir Gavin: “I would like to thank you for your personal support and loyalty.”
Gavin Williamson quits after formal complaint over ‘slit your throat’ remark
Sir Gavin – who had already been sacked by Theresa May and Boris Johnson – has also been accused of sending expletive-laden messages to former chief whip Wendy Morton where he complained 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.
Late last night, Sir Gavin said he would not be taking severance pay, tweeting: “This is taxpayers’ money and it should go instead toward the government’s priorities like reducing the NHS’s waiting lists.”
Williamson vows to clear his name
Senior Tory MPs have alleged to Sky News that Sir Gavin “has been bullying for most of his career” and that his behaviour has “always been well known”.
One senior Tory MP, who was in cabinet with Sir Gavin, told Sky News: “He’s a bully, no two ways about it, it’s well known, it’s always been well known.
“His only talent is bullying. It was a mistake for Rishi to give him a job.”
The senior MP also claimed Sir Gavin, who was chief whip under Mrs May, “modelled his whipping style” on US drama House of Cards.
Another senior Tory MP was even more disparaging of Sir Gavin, calling him “an absolute little sh***” who “should never have been allowed in government”.
The MP called his appointment to Mr Sunak’s cabinet “beyond the pale”, adding: “I’d be surprised if the Cabinet Office didn’t warn the PM there would be a dim view taken if he was given a job.
“I have no idea on earth why anyone would employ him, he’s been bullying for most of his career.
“The spider in the box, the idea he’s got something over somebody… it astonished us all when he got into cabinet.”
Williamson ‘did right thing’ in resigning
The MP went on: “Thoroughly incompetent, thoroughly pathetic. He’s a nasty piece of work, who adds no value whatsoever. Rishi thinks he owes him, he doesn’t. If Gavin Williamson is the answer I don’t know what the hell the question is.”
Sky News has approached Sir Gavin for comment.
The PM’s press secretary said it would be a question for the Forfeiture Committee whether Sir Gavin should be stripped of his knighthood.
Sir Gavin’s third stint in the cabinet was by far his shortest, having made his return to the government only two weeks ago, when Mr Sunak appointed him as a minister without portfolio in the Cabinet Office.