Sir Gavin Williamson resigned tonight minutes after a bombshell TV interview in which the former chief whip was accused of being a bullying House of Cards type figure who boasted about owning his fellow MPs.
His nemesis was Anne Milton, his former deputy chief whip who worked closely with Williamson when he was chief whip, who in a dynamite interview on Channel 4 claimed he had used “leverage” and threats to control MPs and enjoyed instilling a culture of fear in Westminster. To make her point, Milton added: “It’s an image he cultivates. I think he feels that he’s Francis Urquhart from House of Cards.”
Milton, who worked with him between July 2016 and November 2017, gave details of an alleged event when the whips’ office helped an MP with his financial problems. She explained: “I do remember him asking me to give the MP in question the cheque. And he waved it under my nose and said: ‘Make sure when you give him this cheque, he knows I now own him.’”
Milton went on: “I don’t think it was a joke. It was the seriousness with which he said it. And I think that the bottom line is, if instances accord with your overall experience with somebody, then you believe them.” She gave the MP the cheque but didn’t pass on Williamson’s message.
Milton, who stepped down as an MP in 2019, also accused Williamson of using MPs’ mental and physical health problems as “leverage”, that he collected salacious gossip about their “sexual preferences” while his behaviour was often “threatening” and “intimidating” towards colleagues. In another exchange, Milton said the former chief whip had sent her an email following a female civil servant’s inquiry about why a minister had to change travel plans to attend a vote, saying: “Always tell them to fuck off and if they have the bollocks to come and see me. Fuck jumped up civil servants.”
The explosive Channel 4 interview follows on from allegations earlier today from a senior civil servant at the Ministry of Defence that Williamson, during a meeting while he was Defence Secretary, told him to “slit your throat.” The civil servant involved has now made a formal complaint to parliament’s Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme.
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This in turn follows on from the WhatsApp messages which have been published by Wendy Morton, the former chief whip, revealing an exchange between her and Williamson over plans for the Queen’s funeral. The messages show that Williamson used offensive language towards her and complained bitterly about not being able to attend, blaming Morton for not being able to arrange seating. She has also made a formal complaint to the ICGS.
Williamson, who denies behaving badly, is now facing two ICGS inquiries and another internal Conservative party investigation. There are also bound to be questions about whether he should be stripped of his recent knighthood if he were to be found guilty of the allegations.
As a former chief whip, Williamson knew where all the bodies were buried, which is why he was so useful for Sunak to have on-side during his campaign. Sir Gavin – knighted by a grateful Boris Johnson was also given his reward by Sunak for helping him win the leadership with a seat at the Cabinet table.
But Sunak – who until this evening said he backed Williamson and would wait for the outcome of the investigations – also knew that his own good name and promise of integrity would be brought down by holding on too long. He must also have remembered that Williamson for years kept a pet tarantula as a desk-mate called Cronus, named after the Greek god who castrated his father and ate his children. Sunak could not afford to risk the same fate.
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