Sir Gavin Williamson has resigned from government over accusations of bullying, saying he will “clear [his] name of any wrongdoing”.
His departure came shortly after an ex-civil servant, who claimed Sir Gavin told them to “slit your throat”, made a formal complaint against the Cabinet Office minister.
In his resignation letter that he shared on Twitter, Sir Gavin said he “refutes the characterisation of these claims”, but that the allegations were “becoming a distraction for the good work this government is doing for the British people”.
Politics live: Williamson says allegations were ‘becoming a distraction’
As a result, he had “decided to step back from government” and would “fully comply with the complaints process”.
In his response, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he accepted the resignation “with great sadness”, but added: “I support your decision to step back and understand why you have taken it.”
Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said the events had shown “yet another Tory government has descended into chaos”.
Accusations against Sir Gavin came to light over the weekend when reports claimed he had sent abusive texts to former chief whip Wendy Morton, complaining he had been excluded from the Queen’s funeral.
Ms Morton made a complaint to the Conservative Party about the messages, but earlier today confirmed she was reporting him to the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS), parliament’s independent watchdog.
On Monday, a further allegation surfaced, with a former Ministry of Defence official saying Sir Gavin had told them to “slit your throat” and, on another occasion, “jump out of the window” in what they called a sustained campaign of bullying.
Earlier, that ex-civil servant confirmed they too would be going to the ICGS as the incidents had an “extreme impact” on their mental health.
Writing to Mr Sunak, who appointed him to his new cabinet just two weeks ago and had stood by his minister throughout the week, Sir Gavin said: “As you know, there is an ongoing complaints process concerning text messages I sent to a colleague [Ms Morton]. I am complying with this process and have apologised to the recipient for those messages.
“Since then there have been other allegations made about my past conduct [the ex-civil servant]. I refute the characterisation of these claims but I recognise these are becoming a distraction for the good work this government is doing for the British people.
“I have therefore 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.”
Sir Gavin added that it was “with real sadness” that he offered his resignation, but that he would offer Mr Sunak his “full and total support from the backbenches”, and was “proud” to have worked for his government.
Writing in response, Mr Sunak said Sir Gavin’s “commitment to successive Conservative governments and the party over the years has been unwavering”.
And after saying he supported the decision, the PM added: “I would like to thank you for your personal support and loyalty. I know you will continue to represent your constituents with diligence and care.”
Labour’s Ms Rayner claimed Mr Sunak had appointed Sir Gavin “with full knowledge of serious allegations about his conduct and repeatedly expressed confidence in him”, adding the events of the past weak had been “a damning reflection of a weak prime minister”.
She said: “This is yet another example of Rishi Sunak’s poor judgement and weak leadership. It is clear that he is trapped by the grubby backroom deals he made to dodge a vote, and is incapable of putting country before party.
Sir Gavin served as Theresa May’s chief whip from 2016 and then as defence secretary from November 2017 until May 2019, but was fired over a row around a leak from government.
He was hired back by Boris Johnson as education secretary two months later, but was again ousted in September 2021 after much criticism of his handling of the brief during the pandemic.
Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader Daisy Cooper MP said: “This should be the third and final time Gavin Williamson is forced out of the Cabinet.
“Rishi Sunak has serious questions to answer about why he appointed Gavin Williamson, then stood by him instead of sacking him. His promise to lead a government of integrity has now been left in tatters.”