Sir Gavin Williamson should apologise to MPs for bullying a Conservative colleague after he was not allocated tickets to the late Queen’s funeral, Parliament’s watchdog has said.
He was forced to quit as a Cabinet Office minister just days into Rishi Sunak’s premiership last year over a series of expletive-laden messages to former chief whip Wendy Morton was made public.
The texts amounted to “offensive and intimidating behaviour”, Westminster’s Independent Expert Panel said on Monday.
It concluded that Sir Gavin’s conduct was “an abuse of power” and had “gone beyond vigorous complaint or political disagreement to a threat… to undermine Morton personally”.
The panel said it had “considered carefully” whether he should face suspension from the Commons but had instead decided a “full and unreserved apology” was required.
Sir Gavin has accepted the panel’s ruling that he should make a personal statement in the House of Commons and undergo “appropriate behaviour training”, the panel said.
The panel said Sir Gavin texted Morton after not receiving a funeral invitation, which he attributed to him not supporting then-prime minister Liz Truss in the leadership election.
The exchange concluded with him saying: “Well, let’s see how many more times you f*** us all over. There is a price for everything.”
Sir Gavin, 47, who had already been twice sacked from the Cabinet in disgrace, bowed to pressure to resign last November after allegations piled up against him.
He was alleged to have bullied a former official at the Ministry of Defence by telling them to “slit your throat” and was accused of “unethical and immoral” behaviour as Tory chief whip.
Morton complained to the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme, the parliamentary watchdog which investigates claims of inappropriate behaviour against MPs.
While Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Daniel Greenberg cleared the MP for South Staffordshire of the charge of bullying or harassment, the panel upheld an appeal against the decision by Morton.
The panel’s report said: “This was not just a party matter or a simple political difference. It was direct action by way of threat to her personally. And that is clearly how she felt it.”
Sir Gavin, who was nominated for a knighthood by Boris Johnson in 2022, is a divisive figure at Westminster. He is viewed with suspicion by many Tory MPs due to his reputation as a plotter.
He was sacked by Theresa May as defence secretary in 2019 for leaking details of a security meeting, and by Johnson as education secretary over the Covid-19 A-levels crisis.
But he remained a key ally of Sunak, whose judgment in appointing him to his cabinet was criticised when Sir Gavin was forced to quit not long afterwards.
Press Association – by Sophie Wingate and David Hughes