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Sunak under fire for bringing Gavin Williamson back into Govt despite warnings he was under investigation for 'bullying'
6 November 2022, 12:53 | Updated: 6 November 2022, 13:04
Rishi Sunak is under fire for bringing Sir Gavin Williamson back into the Government despite being warned that he was under investigation for allegedly bullying a female colleague.
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Former Conservative Party chairman Sir Jake Berry informed Mr Sunak on the day he took office that the then chief whip Wendy Morton had lodged a formal complaint over a series of abusive and threatening texts.
Sir Gavin, who was a backbencher at the time, accused Wendy Morton of using the death of the monarch to "punish" senior MPs who were out of favour with Liz Truss' Government.
The exchange of messages, obtained by The Sunday Times, concluded with him saying: "Well let's see how many more times you f*** us all over. There is a price for everything."
Both Sir Jake and Ms Morton lost their jobs in the ensuing reshuffle while Sir Gavin - a former chief whip and a supporter of Mr Sunak - returned to Government.
Despite the disclosure, Cabinet Office Minister Oliver Dowden insisted that the Prime Minister still had confidence in Sir Gavin, who is now also a minister in the Cabinet Office.
Mr Dowden - one of Mr Sunak's closest allies - confirmed the Prime Minister had been aware there had been a complaint made against Sir Gavin but said he had not known the details of the exchange.
"As you have seen from the former chairman Jake Berry, he says that he highlighted that to the Prime Minister," he told Sky.
"But in terms of the specific allegations, the specific exchange, the Prime Minister wasn't aware of it until last night."
Mr Dowden said Sir Gavin regretted sending the messages to Ms Morton at what had been a "difficult time" for the Conservative Party following the election of Ms Truss as leader.
"These were sent in the heat of the moment expressing frustration. It was a difficult time for the party. He now accepts that he shouldn't have done it and he regrets doing so," Mr Dowden said.
"Thankfully we are in a better place now as a party."
In the messages, Sir Gavin complained it was "very poor" that privy councillors - senior politicians who formally advise the monarch - who "aren't favoured" have been excluded from the funeral at Westminster Abbey.
Ms Morton repeatedly insisted that his claims were unfounded and that the Government had been allocated an "extremely limited" number of tickets, most of which went to members of the Cabinet.
Mr Williamson retorted: "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 (sic) me about.
"It's very clear how you are going to treat a number of us which is very stupid and you are showing f*** all interest in pulling things together.
"Also this shows exactly how you have rigged it is is (sic) disgusting you are using her death to punish people who are just supportive, absolutely disgusting."
"Well let's see how many more times you f*** us all over. There is a price for everything."
Sir Jake told the paper that he was informed by the Conservative Party chief executive on October 24 that a complaint had been made against Sir Gavin regarding allegations of "bullying and intimidation of parliamentary colleagues".
"In compliance with protocol, in my capacity as party chairman, I informed both the new Prime Minister and his incoming chief of staff about the complaint on the same day," he said.
Following the release of the messages, Labour said it once again raised questions about Mr Sunak's judgment after he reappointed Suella Braverman as Home Secretary just six days after she was forced to quit over a security breach.
Shadow climate change secretary Ed Miliband said: "These are incredibly serious issues and I think it really calls into question Rishi Sunak's judgment and the way he made decisions about his Cabinet."
Sir Gavin was made a privy councillor and awarded a knighthood by Boris Johnson when he was prime minister earlier this year.
He is, however, 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.
A Conservative Party spokesman said: "The Conservative Party has a robust complaints process in place.
"This process is rightly a confidential one, so that complainants can come forward in confidence."
Sir Gavin told The Sunday Times: "I of course regret getting frustrated about the way colleagues and I felt we were being treated.
"I am happy to speak with Wendy and I hope to work positively with her in the future as I have in the past."