Rishi Sunak Was Told Gavin Williamson Complaint Involved “Bullying And Misogyny” Ahead Of Appointment
Rishi Sunak's claim he did not know about the nature of allegations against Gavin Williamson before he appointed him are being questioned (Alamy)
Exclusive: Rishi Sunak was made aware that a complaint against Gavin Williamson related to "bullying and misogyny" before the former minister was appointed to cabinet last month, PoliticsHome understands.
Williamson was forced to resign from the position of minister without portfolio on Tuesday after a series of allegations about his conduct, including that he told a civil servant to “slit your throat”, as well as sending abusive and threatening messages to the then-Chief Whip Wendy Morton.
An inquiry into Morton's complaint by both the Conservative party and parliamentary authorities has been launched.
But questions have emerged over Sunak's insistence that while he had been informed of a "disagreement" by former party chair Jake Berry ahead of Williamson's appointment on 25 October, he was unaware of the detail of the complaint.
PoliticsHome understands that on 24 October, Sunak was told that the complaint “relates to bullying and misogyny” specifically.
A source close to Berry said that on that date, the former party chairman held a meeting with Sunak and his incoming chief of staff, Liam Booth-Smith, where the new prime minister was advised not to appoint Williamson “until the complaint was withdrawn or resolved”.
Speaking in the Commons on Wednesday, Sunak told MPs that he did not know about "any of the specific concerns" relating to Williamson’s conduct at the time of the cabinet reshuffle, in which a number of Sunak allies, including Williamson, were awarded top jobs.
Sunak’s press secretary said today that the prime minister was “made aware of a disagreement” between Morton and Williamson, but “was not aware of the detail of that disagreement or of the content of the text messages that he sent”.
The Sunday Times reported that Williamson sent abusive Whatsapp messages to Morton, the first ever female Tory chief whip, in response to unfounded claims she excluded him from attending the Queen’s funeral at Westminster Abbey in September, telling her “there is a price for everything”, before saying her conduct was “absolutely disgusting” and that she had chosen to “fuck us all over”.
Downing Street stands by their statement that Sunak did not know details of the allegations until they were published by the newspaper over the weekend, when he said he stood by the controversial MP.
Sunak's press secretary said they couldn't “comment on the details of private discussions” when asked why he had not sought further details of the complaint.
It is understood that the formal complaint, along with the evidence of Williamson's abusive texts to Morton, wasn’t made until the 26th October, the day after Sunak hired Williamson.
Sunak admitted to “regret” over appointing Williamson after full details of the complaint were made public.
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner told PoliticsHome it "beggars belief" that Sunak claimed not to know details of the complaint ahead of Williamson's appointment.
“The claim that Rishi Sunak can’t recall a conversation just a fortnight ago concerning serious complaints about a man he appointed to his Cabinet later the very same day beggars belief," she said.
"It’s pretty clear that there were serious allegations he did know about and he still chose to appoint Gavin Williamson. It’s not just the Prime Minister’s memory that’s in question, but his judgement.”
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