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LONDON — Gavin Williamson, a close ally of Rishi Sunak, has resigned from the U.K. government following bullying allegations.
The former education secretary and chief whip has been at the center of a storm of controversy regarding conduct in Westminster after the Sunday Times reported he had sent multiple furious and expletive-filled messages to a colleague. Further accusations have since been made.
New Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had already faced criticism for appointing Williamson, who has been sacked twice from Cabinet roles in the past. Sunak, who upon taking office had promised “integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level,” said in an interview with the Sun that Williamson’s messages were “not acceptable,” but added that an investigation into the situation should conclude.
“I have … decided to step back from government so that I can comply fully with the complaints process that is underway and clear my name of any wrongdoing,” Williamson said Tuesday.
In text messages obtained by the Sunday Times, Williamson appeared to berate Wendy Morton — who was responsible for party discipline under former PM Liz Truss — after learning he would not be among those who attended the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II.
In one text concerning his non-attendance at the late monarch’s funeral, he told Morton “there is a price for everything.” Morton reported the messages to the Conservative Party.
Williamson — who was brought back into government as a minister without a portfolio by Sunak — is also the subject of a formal complaint from a former senior civil servant, who claims Williamson told them to “slit your throat” and on a separate occasion to “jump out of the window,” according to the Guardian newspaper. Williamson denies the charge.
More allegations have been made public since the Sunday Times story broke, including from the former Deputy Chief Whip Anne Milton, who said Williamson appeared to threaten an MP who was in financial trouble.
In his resignation letter, Williamson said he is complying with the Conservatives’ internal complaints process and that he refutes the “characterization” of other allegations that have been made against him. He said he has apologized to Morton.
Known as a well-connected “fixer” in the Tory party, Williamson was an aide to David Cameron and then served in the cabinets of Theresa May and Boris Johnson before Liz Truss decided to leave him out of her top team.
While in government as chief whip under Cameron, Williamson was known for keeping a pet tarantula on his desk.