Rishi Sunak Stands By Gavin Williamson Despite Investigation Into Abusive Messages
Cabinet Office minister Gavin Williamson is facing an investigation into abusive and threatening messages he sent to the former Chief Whip Wendy Morton (Alamy)
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is sticking with Sir Gavin Williamson despite the Cabinet Office minister facing an investigation over a series of abusive and threatening messages sent to the then-Tory chief whip.
Cabinet Minister Oliver Dowden said on Sunday Williamson sent the expletive-laden texts to Wendy Morton earlier this autumn “in the heat of the moment, expressing frustration”.
“It was a difficult time for the party. I think he now accepts that he shouldn't have done it, and he regrets doing so,” Dowden told Sky News.
The Sunday Times printed the messages Williamson sent to Morton, who was chief whip when Liz Truss was briefly Prime Minister, which accuse her of using the Queen’s death to "punish" senior Conservative MPs who did not back Truss's leadership campaign.
He ended the exchange of messages by saying: ”Well let's see how many more times you fuck us all over. There is a price for everything.”
A formal complaint was lodged against Williamson, who is being investigated by the Conservative party, but Dowden said Sunak – who controversially brought the inveterate plotter back into government last month – was still backing him.
“This was Gavin Williamson when he was a backbencher expressing his frustrations at a difficult time for the party with the then-chief whip,” Dowden, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, told the Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme.
“He regrets the language that he used and he shouldn't use that sort of language, but nonetheless that that is in the past now and thankfully, we're in a better place as a party.”
He added: “Of course the Prime Minister continues to have confidence in Gavin Williamson as a minister.”
But Sunak faces further questions over what he knew about the messages, after it was reported that the ex-Tory party chairman, Sir Jake Berry, informed him the day before he entered No 10 that Morton had submitted a formal complaint about Williamson's conduct.
Dowden acknowledged that Berry highlighted to Sunak that the pair had a “difficult relationship”, but said the PM wasn’t aware of the specific allegations until Saturday night.
But Labour’s Ed Miliband said these are “incredibly serious issues and I think it really calls into question Sunak’s judgement and the way he made decisions about his Cabinet”.
The shadow climate change secretary told Sky News that the fact the PM knew of a complaint but still made Williamson a senior minister requires an “urgent, independent investigation” into what exactly he knew and when.
The former education secretary Justine Greening told the BBC the new government could not be afraid to be dealing with this row with the Autumn Statement coming in a fortnight.
“This is the third time under the third Prime Minister that Gavin Williamson has been generating bad headlines one way or another,” she said, highlighting that Williamson has previously been sacked from the Cabinet twice already, once by Theresa May, and then by Boris Johnson last year.
“The texts he sent to the chief whip were unacceptable, and Rishi Sunak doesn't have the bandwidth for this kind of negative publicity when he's building up towards a really important event on the 17th of November, the Budget.
“So it's unacceptable, but it's also hugely unwelcome for the government to have this as a distraction.”
During the exchange with Morton in September Williamson complained it was "very poor" that some privy councillors, the senior politicians who formally advise the monarch, such as himself were being excluded from the Queen’s funeral at Westminster Abbey because they "aren't favoured”.
Morton denied his claims, but he replied: "Well certainly looks it which think is very shit and perception becomes reality. Also don't forget I know how this works so don't puss me about.”
Williamson added: "It's very clear how you are going to treat a number of us which is very stupid and you are showing fuck all interest in pulling things together.”
In another conversation, this time from mid-October, he sarcastically thanked her for her “patronising and condescending tone”, and told her not to “bother asking anything from me”.
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