The former chairman of the Conservative Party has said he told Rishi Sunak a bullying complaint had been made against Cabinet Office minister Sir Gavin Williamson days before he appointed him to the job.
Sir Jake Berry says he informed the incoming PM about the allegations a day before he entered Number 10.
It’s alleged Sir Gavin sent abusive text messages to former chief whip Wendy Morton complaining that he and other colleagues had been excluded from the Queen’s funeral for political reasons.
Screenshots leaked to The Sunday Times appear to show expletive-laden messages from the South Staffordshire MP, including a warning that “there is a price for everything”.
Another message reads “think very poor how [Privy Councillors] who aren’t favoured have been excluded from the funeral”.
A source confirmed to Sky News the contents of the messages were accurate.
In a statement, former Conservative Party chairman Sir Jake Berry said: “On Monday 24th October, I was made aware, by the chief executive of the Conservative Party, that a complaint had been made to the Conservative Party against Gavin Williamson 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.”
Sir Gavin has been approached for comment.
The Sunday Times quoted the Cabinet Office minister as saying: “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.”
Sir Gavin facing calls for third cabinet sacking
Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper accused Mr Sunak of ignoring the complaint and called for Sir Gavin to be sacked.
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “Rishi Sunak’s pledge to restore integrity, professionalism, and accountability has been exposed as nothing more than hollow words. Far from stopping the rot in Downing Street, he’s letting it fester.”
Downing Street has said it will not be commenting.
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.”
Leaked texts will only add to concerns about Williamson’s character
Sir Gavin Williamson is a divisive figure in Westminster, and his return to cabinet raised more than a few eyebrows.
A former chief whip famed for once keeping a tarantula on his ministerial desk, he is viewed as someone never far away from political skulduggery.
He’s an effective political operator for those on his side, but also a source of peril for those that are not.
Despite being knighted by Boris Johnson in March, reports began to bubble over the summer of links between him and the Sunak campaign.
That was something apparently confirmed by his elevation back to the top table last month.
But Sir Gavin has had far from an illustrious career in government.
He was sacked as defence secretary by Theresa May following security breaches, and dismissed as education secretary amid the disastrous handling of exam results during the pandemic.
One senior Tory MP described him as “poisonous”, adding, “the word evil comes to mind… I don’t know of any minister who is more incompetent”.
The leak of these text messages, apparently showing an aggressive and expletive-laden exchange, will only add to concerns about his character.
This all comes hot on the heels of a similar row over the reappointment of Suella Braverman as home secretary, six days after she resigned for security breaches.
The words “grubby deal” were thrown around then, and Labour is making similar accusations now.
The danger for Rishi Sunak is a key part of his pitch for the top job was around a commitment to competence and integrity.
These two controversial cabinet appointments open him up to criticism on both those fronts.
Sir Gavin’s previous sackings
Sir Gavin was sacked as defence secretary in 2019 following the leaking of confidential information from the National Security Council.
After being appointed education secretary by Boris Johnson, he was dismissed from cabinet again in 2021 following controversy around the grading of exams during the pandemic.
It marks the second major controversy to erupt over Mr Sunak’s cabinet appointments, with the PM already under fire for making Suella Braverman his home secretary days after she was sacked for security breaches.