Sir Gavin Williamson has this evening resigned from the government, following a further day in which he has faced criticism about his past conduct.
In his resignation letter, Sir Gavin wrote, “I refute the characterisation of these claims but I recognise these are becoming a distraction from the good work this government is doing for the British people”. He added, “I have therefore decided to step back from the government so I can comply fully with the complaints process that is underway and clear my name of any wrongdoing”.
Responding to Sir Gavin’s resignation letter, prime minister Rishi Sunak has written, “It is with great sadness that I accept your resignation”, adding “I support your decision to step back and understand why you have taken it”.
The resignation will come as a blow to Mr Sunak so soon into his premiership. It also comes in the context of Mr Sunak standing outside Downing Street two weeks ago, to state, “This government will have integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level”.
This is the third time that Sir Gavin has left the cabinet, having previously resigned as defence secretary under Theresa May, and having been sacked as education secretary by Boris Johnson.
His resignation follows a stinging interview this evening with his former deputy in the whips office, Ann Milton. Ms Milton later lost the conservative whip after rebelling over Brexit and stood against the party in the 2019 general election.
Speaking to Channel 4 News this evening, Ann Milton said that Sir Gavin could be ‘quite intimidating’, stating, “He can be quite threatening in his manner and his attitude. I think it is an image that he cultivates. I think he feels that he is Frances Urqhuart from House of Cards. I really did feel that”.
Suggesting that Conservative MPs might be scared of Sir Gavin, Ms Milton said, “I got the impression that he loved salacious gossip, and would use it as leverage against MPs if the need arose”.
Ms Milton stated, “It is shocking to even consider, that you would use someone’s problems, be that physical, or mental, or drinking problems, as a means of getting them to vote with the government. It is completely unacceptable behaviour”.
Continuing she described an occasion in which one Conservative MP had a few financial problems, and Sir Gavin had asked her to give the MP in question a cheque. According to his then deputy, Sir Gavin said, “Make sure that he knows, when you give him this cheque, that I now own him”.
Reacting to Ann Milton’s comments, the Shadow Cabinet Minister, Aneliese Dodds had earlier said, “It is appalling behaviour, it is the kind of behaviour that we might expect from a gang land TV drama, not from people running our government. And of course Gavin Williamson is currently part of that”.
These latest criticisms of Sir Gavin Williamson’s conduct follow reports of a text message exchange between the government’s most recent former chief whip, Wendy Morton, and Sir Gavin in September.
Early today, Ms Morton reported Sir Gavin to Parliament’s Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme. The scheme is charged with looking into complaints by parliamentarians and their staff of bullying. Wendy Morton is also understood to have already made an internal complaint about Sir Gavin’s conduct to the Conservative Party.
The Guardian newspaper has also published reports about Sir Gavin’s conduct towards civil servants during his time as defence secretary. Sir Gavin has strongly denied these claims.