Gavin Williamson Abusive Text Investigation Could Drag Into Next Year
Gavin Williamson is the subject of a complaint by Wendy Morton over text messages he sent to her when she was Chief Whip (Alamy)
Cabinet Minister Mel Stride said he “suspects” Gavin Williamson will still be in government by Christmas as the investigation into abusive messages he sent to a former chief whip could drag on for months.
The Work and Pensions Secretary appeared to confirm the incident is now subject to an "independent" inquiry, meaning it has been escalated from simply an internal Conservative Party probe to potentially one conducted by Parliament’s Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme.
He told Sky News he is "not going to speculate on anybody's future", but when asked if he believes Williamson will still be in his role as Cabinet Office minister by Christmas, Stride added: "I suspect the answer to that is yes".
He believed the investigation "will take some time" and urged detractors to "wait and see" what it concludes.
"The Prime Minister has made it clear that [Williamson is] an important member of his Cabinet.”
Last week it was reported that Williamson, a controversial figure who has in recent years been sacked twice from Cabinet by two different Prime Ministers, was the subject of a complaint by Wendy Morton over aggressive text messages he sent to her when she was chief whip in Liz Truss’s government earlier this autumn.
The Sunday Times printed transcripts of their exchanges, where Williamson accused Morton of withholding invitations to the Queen’s funeral to "punish" senior Conservative MPs who did not back Truss's leadership campaign.
He ended one conversation with the terse warning: “Well let's see how many more times you fuck us all over. There is a price for everything.”
Williamson was appointed a minister and invited to attend Cabinet meetings by Rishi Sunak last month despite the Prime Minister having been informed that a complaint had been lodged. Downing Street has said Sunak was unaware of the specifics of the complaint, and has since said Williamson's language was “unacceptable”. The Prime Minister is standing by him nonetheless.
Stride has insisted that the investigation should be allowed to play out before any conclusions are made about Williamson's future.
"I think the important thing we do now is not to start intervening, and opining on who's right and wrong or what may or may not have happened, but to wait for the results of that investigation," he told Sky News.
"When we have that, and any other investigation that may be triggered in the meantime, then I think we can take stock and come to a firm conclusion."
Stride said that the investigation was being undertaken by "independent parliamentary authorities" and was lodged by Morton.
“At that point it was a party matter because it was made to the Conservative Party central office, and so it will go through that process but it will be independent, and it will be thorough, and it will come to a firm conclusion.”
Since messages to Morton were published on Sunday, further allegations about Williamson’s behaviour have emerged in The Guardian, which reports that he told a senior civil servant to "slit your throat" and "jump out of the window” when he was Defence Secretary.
Stride said it would be "utterly, utterly unacceptable" if Williamson had used those words, but accused the newspaper, which has spoken to the senior civil servant who makes the allegation, of "speculation".
He praised Williamson’s work and said that when serving in the Whips' Office under him, he considered him to have an "aura or mystique around him".
Stride told Times Radio that he believed Williamson has "particular talents and a particular understanding of the parliamentary party”.
But Labour’s Yvette Cooper has said that Williamson’s appointment shows there is a "lack of proper standards" and "a lack of ethics" in Sunak's government.
"Gavin Williamson was reappointed to the Cabinet even when Rishi Sunak knew there was a new complaint in against him. He has admitted that the language, even in the previous complaint was unacceptable," she told BBC Radio 4's Today Programme.
"Bear in mind he has also appointed him to the Cabinet Office which supports the National Security Council, even though Gavin Williamson was previously sacked by Theresa May for leaking from the National Security Council.”
She also highlighted the reappointment of Suella Braverman to Home Secretary less than a week after she was forced out for breaching the ministerial code, and criticised Sunak for failing to hire a new independent ethics adviser after the previous one resigned under Boris Johnson’s watch.
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