08 November 2022

‘Unacceptable’ if Williamson told civil servant ‘slit your throat’ – minister

08 November 2022

A Cabinet minister has said it would be “utterly, utterly unacceptable” if under-fire minister Sir Gavin Williamson did tell a senior civil servant to “slit your throat”.

Rishi Sunak is under increasing pressure over his decision to bring his ally back into Government after The Guardian reported fresh incendiary allegations about his conduct, with a Ministry of Defence (MoD) official telling the newspaper Sir Gavin made the remarks in front of colleagues in a meeting, and on another occasion told them to “jump out of the window”.

But Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride said that at the moment, the report is in the “realm of media speculation”.

Sir Gavin has said he “strongly” rejects the allegation and insisted he has “enjoyed good working relationships” with officials.

But the allegations, including that Sir Gavin “deliberately demeaned and intimidated” the civil servant on a regular basis, will add to the calls for his sacking.

The Prime Minister is already under fire for bringing Sir Gavin back into the Government when he knew he was under investigation for allegedly bullying former chief whip Wendy Morton.

Mr Stride said: “There is an independent inquiry, as you know, going on around another … alleged incident between himself and the then-chief whip Wendy Morton.

“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.

“And then 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.”

Any investigation could take several weeks, with Mr Stride suggesting Sir Gavin will still be in post by Christmas as any process “will take some time and we’ve got to wait to see what comes out of that”.

The PA news agency understands Ms Morton is referring Sir Gavin to Parliament’s Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme, which handles bullying complaints.

The Times, which first revealed the development, reported that it was linked to concerns about a “whitewash” by the Conservative Party.

Mr Stride, who spoke of an “aura or mystique around” Sir Gavin, said that no minister was “un-sackable”.

“The reality with Cronus is he was much touted but he never actually was released to bite anybody,” Mr Stride told Sky News, in reference to the pet tarantula owned by Sir Gavin while he was chief whip.

Labour has continued to maintain the pressure on the Government, with shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper on Tuesday accusing the prime minister of making “grubby political deals that aren’t in the national interest” to appoint Sir Gavin and Suella Braverman.

In a series of expletive-laden texts exposed over the weekend, 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.”

Sir Gavin, who was sacked as defence secretary in 2019, issued a statement denying the broad allegations in The Guardian’s report but did not specifically deny using the language alleged.

“I strongly reject this allegation and have enjoyed good working relationships with the many brilliant officials I have worked with across government,” he said.

“No specific allegations have ever been brought to my attention.”

The newspaper said the official, who later left government, complained to the MoD’s head of human resources about the alleged incidents, but it was understood the Cabinet Office’s propriety and ethics team has not received a complaint about Sir Gavin’s conduct towards officials.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “The Cabinet Office has not received notice of any formal complaints about Gavin Williamson’s behaviour from his time at the Ministry of Defence or any other department.”

Conservative former cabinet minister Baroness Morgan said she had “run-ins” with Sir Gavin when he was Theresa May’s chief whip, adding: “None of this surprises me, sadly.”

She told TalkTV on Monday: “Unfortunately Gavin has a reputation, it’s not a very nice one, and I really don’t know why Rishi Sunak felt he had to have him back in Government.”

Sir Gavin, who was knighted by Boris Johnson earlier this year, is a divisive figure at Westminster where he is viewed with suspicion by many Tory MPs because of his reputation as an inveterate plotter.

He was sacked first by Theresa May as defence secretary for leaking details of a National Security Council meeting, and then by Mr Johnson as education secretary over the Covid-19 A-levels debacle.

However, he was regarded as a key figure in Mr Sunak’s campaign over the summer to become party leader.

The best videos delivered daily

Watch the stories that matter, right from your inbox