Downing Street is undertaking an informal investigation into a “serious” allegation that Sir Gavin Williamson told a senior civil servant to “slit your throat” as the under-fire minister faced a second claim of bullying.
No 10 insisted on Tuesday that Rishi Sunak still maintains confidence in his ally despite the clear unease at the latest accusation as he faces the prospect of three investigations.
An internal inquiry by the Conservative Party is ongoing, while the PA news agency understands that former chief whip Wendy Morton has referred her complaint to Parliament’s bullying watchdog.
Downing Street is understood to be undertaking a fact-finding exercise and considering how to respond to allegations a Ministry of Defence official made to the Guardian newspaper.
The twice-sacked minister denied the official’s allegation of a campaign of bullying while he was defence secretary but did not deny making the extraordinary remarks, including telling the civil servant to “jump out of the window”.
Gavin Williamson. Peter Byrne
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “There have been further allegations reported this morning. Those are serious allegations that have come in.
“It’s true that no formal complaint has been made but we want to consider proper processes before commenting further.”
It was unclear how the Government would launch a formal investigation, but the Cabinet Office’s Propriety and Ethics team would be one option for handling a complaint.
But Mr Sunak’s spokesman indicated he would not feel the need to wait until the resolution of existing investigations to act.
Rishi Sunak is facing criticism for appointing Williamson to his Cabinet. Victoria Jones
“I don’t think he necessarily feels that the idea would be for him to wait until both of those things have fully concluded,” the official said.
“Obviously he would act if and when he felt it was appropriate to do so.”
In a statement, Sir Gavin said: “I strongly reject this allegation and have enjoyed good working relationships with the many brilliant officials I have worked with across Government.”
Downing Street did not say whether Mr Sunak has set up any meetings with Sir Gavin, who holds the vague brief of “minister without portfolio” in the Cabinet Office.
The Prime Minister has been coming under sustained pressure over his decision to bring his ally back into Government despite knowing about a complaint made by Ms Morton.
The Times, which first revealed that she has referred her complaint to Parliament’s Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme, said she made the move over fears of a “whitewash” by the Conservative Party.
In a series of expletive-laden texts, Sir Gavin accused Ms Morton of seeking to “punish” MPs out of favour with then-premier Liz Truss by excluding them from the Queen’s funeral, warning: “There is a price for everything.”
The Liberal Democrats demanded an independent inquiry into Sir Gavin’s conduct so the Tories do not “mark their own homework”.
The party’s Cabinet Office spokeswoman, Christine Jardine, said: “Anything less would be an abdication of leadership from No 10, and make a mockery of Sunak’s promise to govern with integrity.
“The findings must be made public – if the Conservatives have nothing to hide, they have nothing to fear.”